Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June, 2003
In an effort to entice audiences to this play, which contains no song, dance, sex, or violence, marketing types have used words like “hilarious” and “suspenseful.” The Drawer Boy is neither. And that is not a bad thing. In fact, the amazing thing is the tremendous impact this play manages to make without resorting to any traditional theatrical tricks. Playwright Michael Healey simply lets his characters tell his story, and that is enough.
The Drawer Boy, (the title refers to a person who draws, and is therefore pronounced draw-er), was inspired by a real theatrical project called The Farm Show that occurred in Canada in 1972. Theatre artists from Toronto went into rural Ontario and lived and worked on farms while collecting material for this play, which was very successful and spawned film and television versions. Healey takes as his premise one young actor, Miles (David Sitler), coming to live with two men named Morgan (Kirk McGee) and Angus (Robert Ian Mackenzie), life-long friends who have lived and farmed together for thirty years. Both fought in World War II, and Angus lost his memory as the result of an injury.
“Ah ha!” the modern mind cries, “A homosexual ménage a trios! Sordid secrets hidden in the hayloft! Miles has an evil ulterior motive! Morgan is manipulating Angus! Angus has forgotten some horrible secret which will ruin them all!”
Miles is a rather bad actor and an even worse farmhand, but he is genuine in his desire to gather anecdotes which will help him create a successful stage piece. Morgan and Angus are just friends who farm together. Morgan feels responsible for Angus and helps him live as normal a life as possible. Without him, Angus would most certainly be institutionalized. Angus has retained a remarkable skill with numbers and keeps all the farm’s books. He enjoys simple pleasures like counting the stars and listening to Morgan tell him about their past that he cannot remember.
Miles creates a monologue based on Morgan’s stories of the past and invites the two friends to see it in rehearsal. Seeing and hearing someone else own his stories, opens the floodgates of Angus’ memory. As the memories return he becomes literally starved for the truth, consumed with the desire to put all the pieces back together. But Morgan hasn’t included all the pieces in his stories, he has altered and omitted parts of their past simply in order to keep the peace and survive. In the end the real story has emerged and everyone goes on with their lives – Miles in the theatre and Morgan and Angus on their farm.
So simple. So well paced. And, in this StageWorks production, so well acted and beautifully staged by director Laura Margolis. Mackenzie is absolutely amazing as Angus. He completely embodies this damaged man. Sitler tackles the difficult job of being an actor acting like an actor. It takes a good actor to act like a bad actor. Sitler manages to project the narcissism and self-absorption of a hopelessly untalented artiste without going over the top into caricature. McGee holds down the fort in the less showly role of Morgan.
Margolis has worked with Mackenzie to build tantalizing clues to Angus’ imprisoned memories in to the early parts of the play. Why does he touch that one spot on the wall? What, if anything, is inside the kitchen cabinet? The business enables Mackenzie to complete the character in subtle and believable ways.
Rubén Arana-Downs has transformed the theatre space at North Pointe into a stylized rural arcadia with faux barn board everywhere. The real hay on the set emanates a suitably barn-like smell. He uses interesting angles to constrain the action as Morgan and Angus’ lives are metaphorically constrained by their circumstances and chosen way of life. Unfortunately Phil Elman’s sporadic sound design destroys some of the illusion. Why did the cows only moo when they were mentioned in the script? Was that annoying, repetitive squeaky sound supposed to be cicadas? Or is there some animal/insect in the wilds of Canada that actually makes that noise? If so, remind me not to spend any quality time on a farm in Ontario!
Do not miss this powerful production of a remarkable play. StageWorks continues to bring exciting new theatre to Columbia County, focusing each season on quality rather than quantity. They deserve your support.
The StageWorks (518-822-9667) production of The Drawer Boy runs through July 6 at the North Pointe Cultural Center (518-758-9234) on Rt. 9 in Kinderhook, NY. The show runs two hours with one intermission and is suitable for children 10 and up.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003