BATAVIA – A group home for four men living with intellectual disabilities is the setting for “The Boys Next Door,” the new production presented from Sept. 7 to 22 by The Albright Theatre Company of Batavia.
Erin Cauley of South Elgin plays Sheila, a resident in a neighboring group home who is sweet on Norman and encourages him to lose weight. He works at a doughnut shop, where the well-meaning staff give him the imperfect donuts to take home, causing him to gain 17 pounds in three months.
“I love [Sheila] – she’s an adult who knows what she wants and what she needs to do, but a kid at heart,” Cauley said during a rehearsal break on media night. “I try to give her that sweet childlike [quality], but in a mature way. I hope the audience stops seeing a lot of mentally challenged characters and sees how the characters relate to each other like everybody does.”
Portraying Norman and his gentle charm is Ron Gustin of Batavia. Gustin said he saw the show years ago and always wanted to play that role.
Jack, who doubles as narrator, is a social worker devoted to the clients but fighting burnout. He’s played by Jeff Pripusich of North Aurora, for whom the play hits home.
“In college … I worked with mentally challenged children and adults, particularly those with Down syndrome,” Pripusich said. “They are just wonderfully loving. … I was so privileged to be cast as Jack [who has] so many levels [and] so many different relationships with (the others). He’s trying to reach them all. He fails miserably sometimes. His heart is there. Any little success means the world to him.”
Playing the touching character of Lucien is Brian Greco of Oak Lawn, who said he performed in the show 10 years ago in high school.
“I wanted to play all the characters – [it’s] a show I wanted to do again,” Greco said.
Lucien can’t read but brings home piles of books from the library and adores Spiderman. When his disabilities are wrongly doubted and his financial aid threatened, Lucien will end up appearing before the state senate or the “state sneck” as he calls it.
Tom Ochocinski of Plainfield plays three supporting roles, including Sen. Clarke who interviews Lucien.
“He’s kind of reluctant at first, [but surprisingly] connects with Lucien,” Ochocinski said.
Patrick Gallagher of Wheaton portrays the obsessive-compulsive Arnold, who cleans movie theaters and is helplessly bullied at work by a new usher. At home, he tries to be in charge.
“Arnold is just trying to survive,” Gallagher said. “Arnold likes everything in order, because for most of his life, everything was in disarray. [He wants] everyone to listen to him.”
Peggy Condon of Geneva portrays a widowed neighbor, Mrs. Fremus.
“I think Mrs. Fremus has always been involved in her community and so everybody here is part of her community – she just interacts with them,” Condon said. “I think with the loss of her husband, [she’s] dealing with some things too. She fits in with this group – all kind of misfits.”
Playing the roles of Sheila’s fearful friend Clara and a new neighbor, Mrs. Warren, is Vicki White of Batavia.
“I like small parts,” White said. “They allow me to build characters.”
The fourth resident is Barry, a chain chewer of gum who is dealing with schizophrenia and a traumatic childhood. He believes he’s a golf pro and tells people his father is famous in the sports world.
He comes closer to the truth when he says, “My dad – he scares me something terrible all the time.”
Barry is played by J.P. Quirk of South Elgin, who finds him loquacious yet cut off from many of the characters in terms of true connection.
“He’s agitated, frustrated,” Quirk said. “In the second act … Barry talks to Lucien and Mrs. Fremus. She is deaf and Lucien doesn’t understand anything Barry is saying. His storyline does not arc well.”
Playing Barry’s father, Mr. Klemper, is Steve Sturm of Woodstock.
“I really wanted to play this role; my son [is] 14,” Sturm said. “In a couple years, he’ll be a developmentally disabled adult. I didn’t want Mr. Klemper to just be a bad guy villain. I think he loves his son very much, but he’s physically disabled and he has mental health issues and he hates himself very much for failing his family. … He comes back to try to start over again, and it doesn’t go well.”
The play written by Tom Griffin is directed by Elizabeth Hilgart of Aurora, who said audiences won’t find a cathartic ending.
“You should not come to expect conflict and resolution,” Hilgart said. “It’s a show about everyday lives … daily routines.”
She said she has volunteered with children and young adults with severe mental and physical challenges.
“This storyline has always resonated with me,” she said. “[At] the opportunity to direct, I jumped at it.”
If you go
WHAT: The Albright Theatre Company stages “The Boys Next Door”
WHERE: Albright Theatre, 100 N. Island Ave., third floor of Batavia Government Center, Batavia
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday from Sept. 7 to 22
COST: $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors
INFO: 630-406-8838 for reservations; email@example.com, albrighttheatre.com