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‘The Boys Next Door’ opens Dec. 8

December 2, 2011

A production of “The Boys Next Door” by Tom Griffin is the current project for the student-run Masquers and will open on Thursday, Dec. 8 in the Blanche Davis Theater. “The Boys Next Door” is a unique experience and challenge, according to the cast, because a large portion of the characters are mentally disabled.

The annual Masquers production is different from every other show on campus in that it is entirely put on by students. The actors, crew, costume designers, set designers and even the directors are currently enrolled UW-River Falls students. “It’s essentially a training exercise for students for pre- paring them for the real world so that they eventually will be able to do everything the faculty does,” director Justin Delong said.

“The Boys Next Door” tells the story of four mentally disabled men who live together and their caretaker. “We’re doing something so different,” said Kelsey Miller, who plays one of the men’s love interest, who is also mentally disabled. “You’re playing a mentally handicapped person. It’s something completely unique.”

Miller said that Sheila has been one of her most challenging roles because of this. To prepare for their roles, Delong tasked the actors with finding real life inspiration and examples with which to base their portrayals on. Mill- er said that she watched foot- age of Glee actress Lauren Potter, who has Down syndrome and portrays a character with Down syndrome on the show. “I’m making art in the mindset that I’m mentally handicapped,” Miller said. She has made jewelry and drawn pictures in the mindset of her character. Miller said the drawings are for her character’s love interest, Norman, and that they might appear in the show.

Danny Vopava, who plays Norman, said that none of the characters’ disabilities are clearly stated in the script so it “frees up the actors to play around with it a little.” Vopava said that he developed his character first from vocal work. “That’s the real tripping point for this show,” said Vopava, “it can be really offensive if you’re not careful about it.”

Delong said that because of this, there has been a hesitance from local charities to be involved in the production. “One group was very adamant that they wanted nothing to do with us,” Delong said. “Apparently they had been involved before with another production [of “The Boys Next Door”] and apparently it was very offensive.”

While the show is a comedy, the cast is aware of the fine line they are walking. “This show was written by someone who was not laughing at them,” Vopava said. “The point of the show is that by the end you come to the realization that we’re all humans. We’re not laughing at anyone. Everyone is laughing with each other.”

Taylor Evans, who plays the group’s caretaker, Jack, is taking a special education course and has been doing observations in the field. “It’s interesting to get to work with them because the character goes through social burnout,”

Evans said. “From what I see, [the cast is] hitting it right on the head.”

Evans said he sees this production as an opportunity for the audience, as well as the cast to learn something. “I like to think of theatre as something you can learn from,” he said. “When you watch this show, it takes you along and they get you to laugh and they get you to cry and they get you to feel for these characters, but at the same time you’re also learning an awful lot even though you don’t know it.”

“The Boys Next Door” will run Dec. 8-10 and Dec. 15-17. Doors open at 7 p.m. and performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $10 for general admission, $8 for seniors, and $5 for UWRF students.

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