By Tom Larson
Last year, the Morris Area One-Act Play cast and crew delved into censorship with an original production and took home the top award at the state competition.
This year's One-Act Play team is producing a play by Tom Griffin, "The Boys Next Door," which also requires its cast to tap into difficult subject matter.
The 30-minute production, distilled from a script that typically runs about 90 minutes, offers a glimpse of the interaction of four developmentally disabled men who live together with their supervisor and are seeking love, laughter and meaning to their lives.
"It's a great character study with the types of characters you don't normally see on stage," said director Dave Johnson.
"The Boys Next Door" will be staged for the public on Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. The fourth-annual Poetry Out Loud competition will be at about 8:30 p.m. following the Friday performance.
The cast then takes the play to the One-Act Play sub-section competition on Saturday at West Central Area High School.
Playing developmentally disabled characters requires the actors to interpret a demanding script while avoiding stereotypes, said Thomas McPhee.
"It's one of the trickier ones," McPhee said. "You can't make it stereotypical and it can't be someone else's developmental disability. It has to be your own, and that's kind of scary. You have to think, 'How would I be as a developmentally disabled person?', and go from there."
The play takes place in a New England residence, where Norman, Lucien, Arnold and Barry live with Jack, the young social worker. Paring the material down by two-thirds was difficult, Johnson said.
"We had to cut a lot of character development, good scenes and a lot of jokes," he said. "It's tough with a play like this that I really like a lot. But there's still good humor with the serious scenes. We still have the essence of the play there."
Working in the comedic elements is a challenge.
"You have to create comedy without making fun of the character," Johnson said. "You have to not make fun of the characters but have fun with the characters.
That's a difficult task, working with unique characters and a short time frame.
"It's very different from the parts I've played in the past," said Mitchell Finzel. "Playing a disabled character, you go inside and figure out the basics. It's very simple things that make the character."
Cole Vig plays the father of one of the men. It's the father's abusive nature which leads to his son's disability. The caustic nature of the character runs counter to Vig's personality, he said.
"It's difficult getting into the right mood," he said. "I'm really far away from the character I'm playing. I have to get into the right mindset before I go on. It's a different acting experience for me."
Alex Lorenz plays the man's son, a brilliant schizophrenic who fantasizes that he is a golf pro.
"It's fun," he said. "I love it, but emotionally, it's pretty tough. It's a touchy subject."
The rest of the cast includes Thomas Roberts, Krista Matthews-Saugstad, Lora Zierke, Laura Lu Delehanty, Olivia Pilarski and Brian Miller. The crew includes Zack Mithun, Kelsey Mitteness, James Aronson and Jackson Boever.
Johnson said he's wanted to produce "The Boys Next Door" as a one-act for some time. He's seen the play several times, and a colleague at Holy Angels produced it for the One-Act Play competition. It was a perfect follow-up to the demands of last year's original production.
"To create and original show from scratch is a monumental task and I'm not going to do it year after year," he said. "The success of this show depends on the actors' ability to develop characters, both as developmentally disabled people, and as people with hopes and dreams."