The Boys Next Door, Mefisto Theatre Company, at Chicago Dramatists. The Mefisto Theatre Company–which had a hit in New York with Eat the Runt–has moved to Chicago and is restaging its 1998 debut NYC production, Tom Griffin’s comedy about four mentally challenged men who live together in government-assisted housing. Loosely connected vignettes reveal the difficulties they face when it comes to amorous interactions, hazing from “normal” coworkers, and the workings of a capricious government that terminates first and asks questions later. Griffin’s play allows us to share intimate moments that would otherwise have remained invisible.
Rich, textured performances are given by Derrick Nelson as Lucien, who must testify before the Senate to keep his social security benefits, and Weil Richmond as a man whose happy life includes a job in a doughnut shop and a girlfriend. But the indisputable star of the show is Spike Black as Arnold, an obsessive-compulsive manic-depressive. Black reduces Arnold to the hardened core of Woody Allen’s neurotic essence, then adds a shot of Jerry Lewis. His outstanding performance is actually a little incongruous with the rest of this sweet, funny, slightly overlong show. If Black had been in drag belting out Liza Minnelli impersonations, he’d be enjoyable in exactly the same way.