Based on Tom Griffin’s decade-old play of the same name, “The Boys Next Door” is a sweetly humorous story — sensitively told and performed — about four mentally disabled men sharing a house under the supervision of a dedicated social worker.
The four residents of the house are high-strung fussbudget Arnold Wiggins (Michael Jeter), developmentally disabled Lucien P. Singer (Courtney B. Vance), doughnut-loving manic-depressive Norman Bulansky (Nathan Lane) and schizophrenic Barry Klemper (Robert Sean Leonard). All are quite high-functioning.
Although social worker Jack (Tony Goldwyn) loves “the boys,” he makes the decision to switch professions, to car leasing. While the story obviously needs something to provide conflict, Jack’s move is not sufficiently explained or supported.
His wife (Jenny Robertson) feels neglected, but she works with foster children (according to a throwaway line), so one would expect her to understand Jack’s devotion to his work a little better.
Secondary plotlines include Norman’s sweetly tentative romance with Sheila (Mare Winningham); the fragile Lucien testifying before a state Senate committee on funding for the disabled; and a visit from Barry’s estranged father (Richard Jenkins), which is undercut by latter’s overacting and pedestrian scripting.
Leonard delivers a performance of great depth as Barry, the most poignant character because of his awareness of his situation. Lane and Jeter, aware of the fine line between character and caricature, offer delicately balanced portrayals. Vance has a childlike innocence as Lucien. As Jack, Goldwyn is well cast.
Director John Erman avoids sentimentality, emphasizing the humor and humanity of the story. Weaknesses in William Blinn’s script are mostly in plot underpinnings; main characters are well drawn.
Toronto locations are effectively lensed by Frank Tidy. John Kander contributes sprightly, ragtime-flavored music. Participation of developmentally challenged actors boosts reality quotient and is a welcome display of a commitment to diversity.