By Bleah B. Patterson
Drama students are learning to walk the fine line between portraying real people and stereotypes.
They are preparing for a production of “The Boys Next Door” in the auditorium of McAllister Fine Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Nov. 16 and Nov. 21-23. Sunday matinee performances are at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 17 and 24.
“The Boys Next Door” is described as a comedic and heart-warming approach to mental illness.
Over the years, this play, written by Tom Griffin in 1985, is continuously adapted to remain current.
“The Boys Next Door” tells the story of Jack Palmer, a social worker who allows his professional life to take over his personal life, particularly in his attempt to help four boys with mental health problems.
Drama freshman Esau Perez plays Arnold Wiggins, a man in his early 20s who longs for independence despite his diagnosis of OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“Reading through the script, I realized that I wanted the opportunity to capture this unique role,” Perez said. “Arnold is a very nervous person, and I definitely want to portray his character without seeming like a nervous actor, and I didn’t want to offend anyone. I needed it to be genuine.”
Drama sophomore Andy Silva comes to his role with experience. He plays Barry Kempler, a 21-year-old schizophrenic who suffers with depression. “I did this show in high school and was lucky enough to land the same role the second time,” Silva said.
Even with that background, Silva struggles with the portrayal. “I’m not 100 percent comfortable with it. On stage, I have to keep in mind it’s all acting,” Silva said “I take a light approach to my character’s illness. I don’t want to portray any stereotypes.”
Director Charles Falcon advised students to “get out of their heads” and, instead of simply reciting their lines, to take a moment to feel the character and to become them.
During rehearsal, emotions rose as students strove to place themselves in their character’s shoes, empathizing with their experiences and expressing their physicality.
Drama freshman Brian Hill portrays Norman Bulansky who experiences his world with a child-like innocence and forthrightness.
“I didn’t know anything about the play beforehand,” Hill said. “But the more I got into it, the more I decided I didn’t want to play the stereotype. I wanted people to know people like Norman are real.”
Drama sophomore Gabe Mendez portrays the fourth housemate, Lucien P. Smith, who also faces mental challenges.
With one week until the curtain rises, students and director alike anticipate a comedic, warm and touching production that will help the audience identify with the characters.
“These men are struggling to be normal, to be independent.” Perez said.
“It might look funny, and it might feel funny to us, but everyone should try to remember that it’s actually happening in the real world,” he said.
Hill added, “People like our characters really exist. They have goals just like everyone else, and I hope that we do a good job of portraying that.”
Silva said, “I hope that people understand where my character is coming from in the end, and I hope they cry with him.”
Tickets are $2 with a college ID, $8 with a military ID and $10 general admission.
For more information, call 210-486-0597.