NORTH TONAWANDA – Ten years ago, Starry Night Theatre Director L. Don Swartz said a play – a comedy about mentally handicapped men – was brought to him to consider for the theater’s next production.
The play was “The Boys Next Door” by Tom Griffin, which will return for a 10th anniversary production on May 7 to 24 in the Ghostlight Theatre, 170 Schenck St.
He said members of the Starry Night Theatre troupe had tried for years to get him to read it.
“I said, ‘I am not going to read it. I am not going to read a serious comedy set in a group home,’ ” Swartz said. “They finally beat me over the head and I sat down with it – and I got it.
“It wasn’t a question of could we do it, but how could we not,” said Swartz, who both directs and is featured in the production. “It’s all there on the page.”
The man who brought the play to Swartz, Paul McGinnis, had a special connection to the topic, since he worked in a group home at the time.
“This had been his job for 19 years,” Swartz said of McGinnis. “He was in (the play) 10 years ago and played one of the residents in the home – Norman. Now, 10 years later, he will play Jack, the earnest, but burned-out social worker.”
Swartz said McGinnis brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this production and also acts as a consultant to the other actors. But 10 years ago, when the troupe first presented the show, he had specifically requested not to be cast as the social worker.
“He begged me. He said, ‘I’ll play anything but Jack, because that’s what I do, 9 to 5,’ ” Swartz said. “Since he’s been out of it for five years, he has perspective and he understands the burnout. I look at him and say, ‘This is so real.’ This is a pleasure for him to tell the story – and maybe a bit cathartic.”
Swartz said “The Boys Next Door” is not a broad comedy or maudlin, but rather a serious though comic look at life in a group home, showing the joys and sorrows the residents experience just trying to get through each day.
Swartz said there is also a love story between two of the characters, which touches your heart, but you know they are not capable of having the kind of relationship that people who are not mentally handicapped would be able to have.
“In a way, this play is a tribute to our social workers and it is told through these four lovable residents who, throughout the day, get themselves into problems they need help with,” he said.
Swartz admits that when Starry Night first presented the show, they were afraid people wouldn’t understand the playwright’s intentions, but said that over the past 10 years, it has been one of the more requested shows to bring back. He said there also has been a lot of positive feedback from experts in the field.
The show was also presented as a movie on the Hallmark Channel, starring Nathan Lane.
The North Tonawanda production by the Starry Night Theatre troupe also features Carl Tamburlin, Chris Fire, Jesse Swartz, Julie Senko, and Debby Koszelak Swartz, among others.
Performances will be at 7 p.m. May 7; at 8 p.m. on May 8, 9, 16, 22, and 23; and 2 p.m. on May 24. Tickets are $14 general, $12 for veterans, seniors and students. Tickets can be reserved online at www.starrynighttheatre.com or by calling the theater at 743-1614.