Comedy is Wayland's fourth installment at Ruidoso theatre

Release Date: June 4, 2009    

PLAINVIEW – By his thinking, the Sacramento Mountain Theatre Collaborative has accomplished much of what Dr. Marti Runnels set out for it to do. In its first three years, the summer partnership between Wayland Baptist University and Ruidoso, N.M.’s famed Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts has helped the theatre program recruit students, provide an intensive theatre experience for both high school and college students and brought another dimension to the Spencer’s annual lineup of programming.

Each year, the audience for Wayland’s single-performance production has grown. So what type of production could the university bring to the table in 2009 to continue the trend? Runnels believes The Boys Next Door, a comedy by Tom Griffin, might be the perfect answer.

“This is one of the first true comedies to bring to the Spencer,” said Runnels, who serves as theatre director and professor as well as dean of the School of Fine Arts. “This was one of those shows I really enjoyed doing earlier and wanted to do it again.”

Runnels pulled the play from his vault of 1995 productions, dusted off the copy and set to work to cast the production, using the traditional blend of current WBU students, WBU alums and high school students. Though this year’s production includes actors with a variety of theatre backgrounds, Runnels said the SMTC opportunity provides something most have never experienced: from starting rehearsals to live stage production in 20 days.

The final product – a study in the common experiences all people endure – will be performed at the Spencer Theater on June 19 at 8 p.m. Runnels said the show is worth the drive to the scenic New Mexico mountain city for its humor alone. But its message is also valuable.

“The play is about mentally disabled men in a group home and it’s a comedy, so people are usually taken aback by that,” he said. “But it really underscores that we all go through the same things – making money, dividing the chores, living with other people, etc. Watching this play is like watching any other play. You don’t see people who are different than you but people who are just like you in many ways.”

Runnels said the play originally appealed to him because he believes deeply in not categorizing people based on any aspect of who they are.

“God’s children are God’s children. Period,” he said. “I hope people do watch and feel a little different about people with mental challenges.”

Still, he said the interactions and idiosyncrasies of the play’s characters, who run the spectrum of functionality, are humorous in the way that all human relations experience are. The group home’s caretaker, Jack, serves as the narrator for the play, which deals with his case of burn-out and thinking about his future options.

While comedies typically are challenging to produce – timing and delivery is vital to achieving the comic moments – this production brings its own set of difficulties due to the characters being portrayed. Runnels said the cast will be spending extra time in character work, some of which will involve visiting a local group home and the Central Plains MHMR facilities.

“The last thing I want to do is make it look like a caricature,” he said. “The last time we did this show, the MHMR people who came to see the show said that we created individuals that they knew. To me, that was the best compliment.”

The cast for The Boys Next Door includes recent Lubbock High graduate Skylar Stevens as Arnold Wiggins; Micah Taylor, a student at Panola Junior College, as Norman Bulansky; and Elgin High School senior Courtney Mikeska in the roles of Fremus, Warren and Clara. Current WBU students include Adam Maddox, a new theatre major who had a role in the musical Man of La Mancha, as Barry Klemper, a schizophrenic resident of the home who thinks he is a golf pro; Daniel Pond, also in La Mancha, as Hedges, Corbin and Clark; and sophomore theatre major Corinna Browning as Sheila. Browning debuted with WBU theatre in last summer’s Spencer production of the Agatha Christie thriller The Mousetrap.

Alumnus Dennis McMenamy a theatre teacher at Groesbeck High School who was involved in the Texas musical for many years, plays Mr. Klemper. And Patrick Whitfill, who recently finished a doctorate in English from Texas Tech and is a WBU theatre veteran, plays the role of Jack. Ellerson Pork, an East Texas actor, reprises the role of Lucien P. Smith for Wayland, having done the same production for a community college.

Tickets for the WBU production are $25 and available through the Spencer box office by calling toll-free (888) 818-7872 or visiting the Web site at