February 22, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy, performed by Port City Playhouse is by turns a darkly funny and deeply poignant piece of theater that examines the bonds of friendship and the deeds that define altruism. It’s the summer of 1972 in rural Ontario, Canada when Miles (Daniel G. Westbrook), an aspiring young playwright looking for material for his drama class at a nearby college, arrives at the door of a rundown farmhouse offering to lend a hand in exchange for a glimpse of farm life. What follows is a tightly crafted piece of theater that reveals two men bound together by tragedy and loss, and another whose observations and willingness to listen afford a kind of healing. The powerful tragicomedy is reminiscent of the Rain Man and George and Lennie’s relationship in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Morgan (Elliott Bales) and Angus (P. Spencer Tamney) were boyhood friends who served together in London during World War II. One night in a bombing raid, Angus was hit by an explosive resulting in his inability to remember anything for more than a short time. “All he knows is right now!” Morgan tells Miles, though Angus’s mathematical calculations are as skillful as a savant. Still Morgan strives to keep day-to-day life unchallenging to avoid provoking Angus’s migraine-inducing memories.
With his notebook at the ready, Miles records the pair’s every word searching for insights along with farming wisdom. Angus is eager to recount what little he remembers of his life before the accident, but Morgan, who discusses the price of eggs with the same intensity as he pulls the wool over Mile’s eyes, tries to keep the dramatist at arm’s length, telling him to rise at three a.m. to rotate the crops from one field to another, “You break it up into pieces no bigger than you,” he teases the visiting rube, while instructing him to pick corn kernels out of cow puddles with a serving fork.
It is only when Miles looking for a deeper understanding of their lives begins to extract Angus’s long hidden emotions that the men’s painful story is revealed and the tragedy of their lives unfolds.
Michael Healey’s drama comes out of a true story of a group of actors who in the 1970’s visited the heartland of Canadian farms interviewing farmers and their families and learning their stories. Nearly a quarter of a century later, after meeting with the same people whose stories were used in the project, Healey was inspired to write The Drawer Boy as a tribute. [Reviewer’s note: In the interest of clarification, Angus is the “drawer boy”, a reference to his skill at rendering architectural plans. Though until this fact was revealed in the second act, I had been nervously awaiting a small child to emerge from a drawer.]
Jennifer Lyman directs this unforgettable play produced by Carol Strachan and Alan Wray. It’s the perfect cast and the perfect piece for Port City Playhouse’s continuing season of thought-provoking socially relevant theater.
At The Lab at Convergence, 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302. Performances are on the following dates – February 22nd, 23rd, and March 1st, 2nd, 5th, 8th and 9th at 8pm and matinees on March 2nd and 9th at 2pm. For tickets and information visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.