There’s something special about the story of The Boys Next Door - written by Tom Griffin - that’s tugged on the hearts of Fred Hess and Bob Sautter, two familiar faces around the Yorkshire Playhouse. So special, in fact, that the upcoming production will be the third time the actors will take the Playhouse stage in the roles of Arnold Wiggins and Norman Bulansky. I sat down with Hess and Sautter to talk about their return to these roles.
The story: Arnold, Norman, Lucien, and Barry are four adult men with various mental disabilities living together in a group home. The four take the audience on a journey through snapshots of their lives - the highs and the lows.
The Boys Next Door has had a lasting impact on Hess and Sautter. The first time they were cast in this production was 1993. The second, four years later, in 1997. “It’s my favorite part,” says Sautter. “When Fred and I email or text back and forth, it’s always a line or two from the play.” Hess agrees, adding that they’re both incredibly in tune with their characters after all this time. “The first thing I say when I talk to him is ‘My name is Arnold Wiggins,’” he says, as Sautter chimes in to finish the line, “I repeat, I repeat.”
It is obvious from my conversation with the two seasoned actors that the characters of this story have formed a deep bond between them, both onstage and off. “It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to somebody that you’ve known for that long,” says Hess.
Previously, the two performed this script at the now-closed American Legion Club, once with standard staging and once in the round. There are challenges each time, they tell me, while laughing about line memorization. Different directors expect different things, and all have given them new things to think about. “It’s a challenge for us, I think, to let our characters grow. They’re older for us - you say the same words, but they’ve evolved over 23 years.”
Hess and Sautter have changed a lot in the past two decades, but the purpose of the story they’re telling has not. “This show gives you a greater appreciation for the caretakers of people with developmental disabilities,” says Sautter.
Hess adds that the show changed his view of people with various challenges. “Just the daily things that these men have to go through….they see things differently, and it gives you a better understanding of what it’s like.”
“They’re happy people. Very happy,” Sautter says. This statement strikes something in both men, and they fall momentarily silent.
As we wrap up our chat, it’s clear that these two are anxiously awaiting opening night. The story of The Boys Next Door is an important one, both touching and heartfelt. It’s clear that the reasons behind a third run-in with this story are not merely circumstantial. Instead, they are too numerous to be counted. The boys have touched the lives of Fred Hess and Bob Sautter, and it’s likely they’ll steal your heart, too.
The Boys Next Door will run May 5-8 and 12-15. Tickets are available now by visiting yorkshireplayhouse.com/box-office or by calling (402) 362-7060.
~ Written by Morgan Goracke