The Boys Next Door is a heartwarming look at the lives of four mentally challenged men who live together. The actors brilliantly depict four unique, charming, and quirky personalities. Arnold (Michael Collins), in a colorful mismatched wardrobe and large black glasses, constantly spells out the injustices of life, threatening to move to Russia if his grievances go unnoticed. A chubby and lovable Norman (Jason Scott Quinn) always has a donut hidden somewhere; he learns about love and dancing with an equally plump and challenged Sheila (Kelly Legratta), who toddles about shyly with a big bow on her head. Lucien (Brandon Morris) stoops over as he walks, pushing up his glasses, often carrying an entire set of Department of Agriculture manuals while mumbling the alphabet. He is fascinated with everything from his Spiderman tie to the suds in the sink. Barry (Jeffrey Bower) seems the most normal but is really schizophrenic; he thinks he's a golf pro, but he shuts down when his father (Gordon McConnell), a harsh, abusive man, pays a surprise visit. This odd assembly is watched over by a fresh-faced Jack (Wayne LeGette), who narrates, showing his own hidden frustrations. To this bunch, every day is an adventure, whether it's going to the grocery store, doing battle with a rat, or attending the weekly dance. The players make the most of the space, using the aisles as entrances as they reveal the heartbreak and the hilarity that encompass their lives together. Author Tom Griffin has crafted this play skillfully, allowing the audience the liberty to laugh at the situation while gaining respect for a diverse and often misunderstood group. (Through February 6 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach, 561-625-6010)
California Suite by Neil Simon is a series of four vignettes that take place in the same hotel room. The second piece is so laugh-out-loud funny that it makes the whole play worth watching. A hungover and frantic Marvin (Rusty Allison) panics when he awakens to find a girl (Elizabeth King) in his bed and his wife, a buttoned-up Millie (Meryl Bezrutczyk), on her way to the hotel. Exhausted from her flight, Millie just wants to nap, but a frazzled Marvin keeps her out of the bedroom using one ridiculous excuse after another. Then there's a pair of English theatrical types. Diana (Merry Jo Pitasi) is nominated for tonight's Academy Awards. Appearing nonchalant and highbrow but insecure about her appearance, she slowly descends into a despair and longing that cannot be satiated by her refined, gay husband, Sidney (Dante Marelli). Pitasi conquers accent and mannerism, while Marelli stays distantly aloof. In the fourth vignette, four friends take the vacation from hell. Husband Mort (James Cichewicz) and friend Stu (Allison) fight after Mort's wife, Beth (King), injures herself in a tennis match. A whiny Beth protects her leg while a preppy Gert (Bezrutczyk) tries to break up the set; hilarity ensues. (Through March 6 at Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Coral Springs, 954-344-7765.)
Enchanted April lives up to its name, with enticing characters and an engaging plot. Lotty Wilton (Cary Anne Spear) finds herself dissatisfied with her tyrannical husband and her humdrum existence. She finds escape through an ad in the paper -- a rentable castle in Italy. Her heart aflame with possibility, she ropes a reluctant fellow churchgoer, Rose (Laura Turnbull), into the vacation scheme. Needing two others to come along to help pay the bills, Lotty and Rose entice the lonely and beautiful modern girl, Lady Caroline (Annie Reilly), and a rigid, gray-haired drill sergeant of a woman named Mrs. Graves (Pat Nesbit). The foursome makes an odd party, but the castle suits them. The unfolding of the relationship among these strangers is poignant and moving. Spear is priceless, turning from a flighty victim to a natural and exuberant leader of the group. Turnbull evolves from a repressed wife into a blooming young woman ready to accept love. Reilly and Nesbit play character roles, but both show growth, especially Nesbit, skillfully employing body language, speech, and a tight-lipped smile to unveil Mrs. Graves' more vulnerable side. (Through February 13 at Caldwell Theater, 7873 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton, 561-241-7432.)
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