OCEANSIDE — Collaborating with a local mental health services nonprofit, the Oceanside Theatre Company (OTC) strives to inspire a discussion of mental health issues within the community with its first play of the season, “The Boys Next Door,” which opens Feb. 23.
The play, written by Tom Griffin, centers around four mentally disabled men who live together in a group home in Boston and the social worker who looks after them. Both a comedy and a drama, “The Boys Next Door” offers a glimpse into the daily joys and struggles of individuals living with distinct developmental issues, including obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia, as well as the lives of the people who care for them.
“There are definitely some issues that the play addresses that are touchy subjects. And I think it will be thought provoking for the audience,” said Patrick McBride, who plays the social worker Jack Palmer. He referred to how the show puts controversial matters center stage, including how the government allocates money for the care of people with developmental disabilities and whether or not people with mental handicaps should have sexual relations.
Cast members said the one of the greatest challenges of the play was realistically portraying their characters’ mental issues while still making the characters believable as people and not just representations of a specific mental disorder.
“It’s really hard to not go over the line, to make (each character) a real person and not a caricature. And I think that is what us four men who are playing these characters are trying to do, is to make it as believable as possible,” said Ryan Hunter Lee, who plays a schizophrenic man, Barry.
“I’ve read about schizophrenia and met some people who are schizophrenic, and it’s like no one person who has that disorder is the same at all,” Hunter Lee said. “Except for (Barry’s) break down at the end of the play, he doesn’t have any crazy schizophrenic episodes like going insane. So, the subtlety is difficult.”
To help address this challenge and better understand mental health issues, OTC collaborated with TERI, Inc. (Training, Education, Research, and Innovation), a local nonprofit that provides services to people with autism and other developmental and learning disabilities.
Several members of the cast as well as the director Kathy Brombacher met with two TERI group home residents, Nick Bolling and Jason Brummett, and staff member Denise Hernandez to gain a glimpse of what day-to-day life is like living and working with developmentally disabled individuals.
“(Bolling and Brummett) talked about what they do to help around the house, what they like to do in their free time, even how they resolve problems when conflicts arise. It was a great way to underscore that we all have the same feelings and dreams, fears and hopes, likes and dislikes,” said Dona Mora, who coordinates TERI’s theater arts program and helped arrange the meeting with the cast members.
“It was just a great way to look at how life is for (TERI residents), what’s important and what the day-to-day existence is,” said Devin Collins, who plays Arnold, a very hyperactive man with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“Luckily for me, there was one gentleman there who was very close to my character,” he said.
He studied the man to gain greater insight into his character and observed what it is like to live in a mental health group home.
Members of the cast and crew both expressed a strong desire to initiate a discussion of mental health issues and disabilities with “The Boys Next Door.”
“I think what is interesting about (the play) is it shows those of us who do not have these disabilities the simple things we take for granted…We get to see (the four main characters) enjoy and discover things throughout the play. It’s like every day is a new day,” said OTC’s Artistic Director Christopher Williams, who selected the plays for this season.
“Working on this play has made me heighten my awareness of when I see people who are homeless and clearly have some mental disability,” said McBride. “You don’t always stop to think about what brought them there or how you can help them out.”
“The Boys Next Door” runs evening and matinee shows Feb. 23 through March 3, with a preview night Feb. 22, at the Brooks Theatre. For tickets, visit oceansidetheatre.org.