MASON CITY | Alecia Balduf and Eric Eichenlaub, both of Mason City, have been eagerly taking the stage at the Mason City Community Theatre the past several weeks.

Performing in the play "The Boys Next Door" the two haven't let their disabilities stop them from participating in the show. Both Balduf and Eichenlaub have Down syndrome.

"I'm not ready for it to be over," Balduf said. "I've made friends."

The two friends became involved in the play when co-director Joan Gasaway told Balduf's mother, Lisa Yunek, about it. Neither had been on stage before; however, Balduf was stage manager for "Crime of the Heart."

Balduf auditioned for the play landing the role of Clara, while a character named Eric was created for Eichenlaub.

Yunek said both are background characters in the play, which is about four mentally challenged men living together in an apartment under the supervision of an increasingly burnt out social worker.

However, Balduf and Eichenlaub still had lines to memorize and several scenes on stage, which included dancing.

Eichenlaub said he favorite part is dancing, while Balduf's is "the part where I say no to him dancing," she said. Both said they don't get nervous before performances because they practice a lot.

"I love working with Alecia and Eric," said Lynnea Frederickson, Forest City, who has scenes with Balduf. "They're very consistent."

Gasaway, whose son was physically disabled, and co-director Lori Holthaus said both Eichenlaub and Balduf are "naturals." It was both directors' first time having cast members who are mentally challenged.

"They're both so sweet," Holthaus said. "I'm so glad Eric did the play because he's a cool guy."

Holthaus said she already knew Balduf because she's neighbors with her.

Both Balduf and Eichenlaub said they hope to perform in future plays, but Balduf hopes to do it without her mother next time. Yunek is also in the play portraying Mrs. Fremus and Mrs. Warren.

"I have been so proud of her," Yunek said. "She's been facing big fears and nerves."

"Eric has done a great job, too," she added.

"The Boys Next Door" ends this weekend with performances at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.


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