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'The Boys Next Door' set to open tonight

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse presents a new play for the next two weeks. "The Boys Next Door" will be shown Wednesdays through Saturdays through July 31. Shown above are actors, front row from left, Zach Curtis and Warren C. Bowles, and, back row from left, Clarence Wethern and Michael Paul Levin as they rehearse a scene from the comedy that features a cast of nine. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

"The Boys Next Door" opens tonight at 8 p.m. at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse and the emotionally appealing, amusing play written by Tom Griffin will continue through Saturday, July 31.

As the fourth production in the 60th summer season at the Playhouse, it centers on four mentally challenged men living in a communal home somewhere in New England during the summer of 1987.

Guest director Peter Moore gives a touching and sincere focus on the relationships between the endearing characters and the difficulties they each face.

The ringleader of the four is hyperactive, talkative Arnold Wiggins. Played by Michael Paul Levin, he works at a movie theater and is often abused by others. Afraid to fight back, he retreats to his inner "Russia."

Norman Bulansky, played by Zach Curtis, is the romantic. Employed at a doughnut shop, he loves his work just a little too much, bringing home a carton of doughnuts every night. He carries a large key ring, of which he is excessively proud, and has a love interest, Sheila. Played by Katherine Tieben, Sheila is as interested in his keys as she is in Norman. Innocent and childlike for their years, the two provide one of the play's most beautiful moments when they shed their limitations, if only in their imaginations, and find grace in a shared dance.

Lucien P. Smith, played by Warren Bowles, is the most challenged of the group, yet enthusiastically checks out armloads of books from the library, despite being unable to read. In danger of losing his disability funds, he testifies before a legislative committee in a moving scene, bringing a voice to what can only be imagined as his existence.

Barry Klemper, played by Clarence Wethern, is a schizophrenic, but brilliant young man who believes he is a golf professional, although he has never owned a set of clubs. When his abusive father, played by Paul Reyburn, visits him for the first time in years, it proves devastating.

Shepherding this quartet is earnest Jack, played by Mitch Berntsen, their caring but increasingly desperate social worker. Burning out from constant demands, he shares the daily lives of these four, where "little things" sometimes become momentous and quite often humorous.

Reprising their roles from the Paul Bunyan Playhouse presentation of "The Boys Next Door" 20 years ago are local actors David Moffett and Nancy Brown-Colligan.

The momentary glimpses given for each of these characters are touching and leads to the realization that, regardless of our capabilities, we all want the same things: to love and be loved, to laugh, to find meaning and experience a purpose in life.

Performances will be at 8 p.m. July 21-25 and July 28-31 in the historic Chief Theatre, 312 Beltrami Avenue N.W. Tickets are $22. A Sunday matinee will be at 2 p.m. July 25 for $11 per ticket. Student tickets are $10 for anyone younger than 21 and must be purchased in person at the theater. All other tickets may be purchased through the Playhouse Box Office at 751-7270 or online at

The 60th season at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse will conclude with the musical, "Gypsy," Aug. 4-14.