The Drawer Boy is a droll, humorous, slowly spun story that's often gently charming. It's based on a Canadian theater project carried out in 1972, when a group of actors from Toronto went to live in a farming community and created a play about their experiences there. You can catch echoes of that original project in the bitter observations of one of the characters regarding the impossibility of making a living farming the land. The actors' play, The Farm Show, was made into a documentary film. Actor-journalist Michael Healey wrote The Drawer Boy in 1999.
In the beginning of Healey's play, which is set in the 1970s, an actor named Miles arrives at the home of two bachelor farmers, Angus and Morgan. At first Miles is puzzled by their eccentric behavior. No matter how often he and Angus interact, Angus is always surprised, greeting him with an identical "Hello, Miles. Okay." Morgan -- who's intensely protective of Angus -- torments Miles with ridiculously satiric bits of farming lore: Cows live in a state of continual terror, producing milk because they know they'll be killed for meat if they don't; eggs need to taken from under sitting hens and rotated so that the hens don't get too attached to them.
Morgan's storytelling doesn't end there, however. Angus's memory was torn away by shrapnel during the Blitz in London, so Morgan is the keeper of the duo's history. He repeats over and over again to Angus the story of their growing up together, their sojourn in England and the two Englishwomen they loved. Overhearing this, Miles realizes he has the material for his contribution to his acting group's play: Like the farmers, he has to produce or die. But when Morgan and Angus attend the production, the effects are shattering. The narrative of their lives is shredded, their separate relationships with Miles shift drastically, and it's unclear that they'll be able to continue their shared existence in any viable way. Miles has been the catalyst for revelation, but he may also have destroyed his subjects.
There's strength and humor to this script, but it's also discursive and slow, failing to evoke the full emotional response the situation asks for. Neither the plot nor the characters are entirely convincing. Would Miles really be as dopey and gullible as he seems at the beginning? Do we believe in the second act that so much of Angus's memory has suddenly returned -- and does he even seem like quite the same person? Morgan's first story sounds too poetic to be true -- which it is. But the second version has that same flat, fairy-tale quality, lacking all the texture, quirks and contradictions of real life.
All of the Arvada Center performances are very good. Duane Black makes Angus a real, puzzled, energetic character, both funny and sad; this could have been a tour-de-force performance if the script had supported it. Michael Leopard shows us all of Morgan's protective strength, and also his capability for cruelty. Miles is played by a likably eager kid named Andrew Kelso. Under the direction of Jane Page, all the elements of the production cohere: Steve Stevens's evocative sound design, Laura K. Love's solid and functional set, and Nicole M. Hoof's convincingly rustic costumes. Cast and director have found the script's humanity; unfortunately, they can't entirely overcome its weaknesses.
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