The Drawer Boy
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., June 11, 2004
The Drawer Boy
Hyde Park Theatre, through June 19
Running Time: 2 hrs
Canadian Michael Healey's play is a sweet, sometimes hilarious, and ultimately moving story of lifelong friendship, the sort that could so easily drift into treacle and sentiment but never does, thanks to Healey's ear for a good story and eye for detail and the strong, steady production Austin's come to expect of the good folks of Hyde Park Theatre.
It's 1972 on a farm in the southern reaches of Ontario, where Angus and Morgan share a house, chores, sandwiches, and a long and tricky past full of hopes unfulfilled. Angus is not all there in his head and is something of a ward of the benevolent, strict, and more than slightly aloof Morgan. We learn the details of these characters' intertwined lives when young, keen actor Miles arrives. Miles has come to research firsthand what it is like to live and work on a farm; and as he digs into the muck and dung, he not only discovers the realities of farm life (and several surreal elements to his designated routine of chores), he jogs Angus' dormant memory back to life, which results in a not-unexpected power struggle between Miles and Morgan and a germination of a deeper, more haunting reality that binds the two older men. It's as if the fields have suddenly come alive, disgorging an overabundance where for years and years there were only the most meager of harvests.
The play is ably directed by Ken Webster, whose sense of control and timing are quite naturally in sync with Healey's work. His direction is neat and clean and focused. There might be a little more humor to be cultivated from the script, but then the comedy in this play is more winsome than wicked, and the unsentimental sweetness of the story is of a more filial than fiery sort. That the production can be so moving and still have a modern zip is testament to Webster's comfort with the material and the actors' tender and honest portrayals of these not-quite-quirky characters.
As Angus, Michael Stuart is in inspiring form. A staple of Austin stages for what seems like eons and a theatrical everywhere-man working for theatre companies all over town in roles large, small, and last-minute, there have been times when you could see just how thinly stretched the busy actor has been. Here, however, Stuart sinks his all into the character and gives a glorious performance. He combines a killer comic instinct with a huge heart, so it doesn't take long for the audience to invest heavily in his character. The investment pays and pays, in moments of humor and hurt. Stuart is matched by the outstanding efforts of David Jones as friend Morgan and Brad Carlin as outsider Miles. Jones is ever at his best as characters with secrets that must out, matching a stoic gentlemanliness with a gift for making the absurd seem straightforward. Whether straight-faced while burdening Miles with ever more humorous chores or clamp-fisted and tight-lipped with the burning stare of a man who knows too much yet cannot divulge what he knows, Jones is strong throughout. And Carlin glows with openness as his eager character seeks and searches, first for the truth about the various animal lives on the farm, then for the truth about Angus and Morgan.
The story that emerges is full of unexpected twists: little things that overwhelm, laughter that brings on disaster. But like the fields around them, Morgan and Angus prove they are still full of life. And like a wayward seed in some forgotten field that grows so outlandishly into a beaming sunflower, The Drawer Boy quietly emerges and expands into something beautiful that affirms both life and friendship.