`The Boys Next Door' Funny, Dramatic Look at Lives of the Mentally Handicapped

Article excerpt

Members of the Lindenwood College theater department found that directing and acting in a production that revolved around the lives of four mentally handicapped characters required sensitivity, self-examination and the kind of research that could come only from personal contact.

"The Boys Next Door" by Tom Griffen is the third Lindenwood Mainstage production of the season. It will open at 8 p.m. today in the Jelkyl Theatre at Lindenwood College in St. Charles. It will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Feb. 27 and 28 and March 1.

The action of the dramatic comedy centers on four male residents of a communal home, a world-weary social worker who cares for them and their neighbors who react to their presence with attitudes that range from revulsion to hospitality. The production first was performed off-Broadway in November 1987. It was a Hallmark Hall of Fame special last year starring Robert Sean Leonard of "Dead Poets Society" and Nathan Lane of "Birdcage." The play's director, Jeff Corriveau, explained that he and his actors walked a fine line at times in an effort to portray the four housemates as individuals coping with life. "We had some tough times in rehearsal because even though it was necessary to compare and contrast their lives with those who aren't mentally handicapped, we wanted to stay away from an us-and-them mentality," Corriveau explained. "Above all our goal was not to stereotype." Corriveau says the playwright managed to evoke humor and compassion through his characters and plot. The final product does not patronize those who are mentally handicapped. "These are lovable characters," Corriveau said. "The writer hits you with situations that are very touching, and you find yourself laughing with the characters, not at them. He also manages to cover the spectrum of mentally handicapped people." Two characters are called mentally challenged. One is referred to as marginal, and the other a class A schizophrenic. Corriveau, 27, is from Rhode Island. He earned his undergraduate degree from Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire and a master's from the University of Maine. …