Add Amy Laaker to the long list of capable women directors who do so much to make theater here strong and diverse. She brought The Boys Next Door back to the John Beasley Theater and created a warmhearted evening with four men who completely disappear into their roles as mentally handicapped residents of a group home.

Aided by their supervisor so ably played by Brent Spencer, their lives unfold in brief fragments.

The short scenes may obscure the story-telling arc for a time, but each little episode is both appealing and revealing, allowing the audience to get to know these men while wondering where it’s all headed.

Mark Feller as Arnold—“I’m a very nervous person”—and Andre McGraw, whose Lucien begins almost every confused utterance with “I be” this or “I be” that, return from the 2006 staging. They’re joined by Kendall Gray as Norman, who works in a donut shop and eats way too many of its cast-offs, and Josh Brady, who’s so convincing as Barry, a young schizophrenic, that you still worry about him after the curtain call.

Brady does something even more amazing off stage. He travels all the way from Kansas City for the role.

Creighton prof Spencer and “the boys” are backed effectively by another quintet in supporting roles, most vividly by Tom Steffes as Barry’s dad, whose long-awaited visit traumatizes his son. Similar climactic events occur in the others’ lives: Norman’s girl friend Sheila (Patricia West) visits his “pad,” Lucien makes a much-feared appearance before a committee that threatened to send him out on his own, and Arnold, always frustrated about his job at a movie theater, packed a suitcase and set off for Russia.

All four gave their characters physical interest, through posture and gesture, as well as verbal style. As is often the case at the LaFern Williams Center south on Q Street, their performances deserved a larger opening night crowd. The play runs through May 27.

It’s joined next week by two musicals featured in this week’s Reader, and Over the Tavern at the Bellevue Little Theatre. It’s a poignant family comedy focused on Rudy, a Catholic school boy whose father runs the saloon beneath their living quarters.

Brock McCullough plays Rudy and the remarkable Ruth Rath plays the teaching nun who poses problems for the lad. Doug Marr directs the play which runs through May 27 on Mission Street in Bellevue’s Olde Towne.

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to

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