Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Off Off Broadway: The Drawer Boy

L-R: Alex Fast, William Laney and Brad Fryman in THE DRAWER BOY.  Photo by Alexander Dinelaris.

Here’s something you might not know about Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy:

Although many New Yorkers never even heard of the play (I hadn’t myself until just last week), it actually was the fourth most produced play in the United States in the first decade of this century (according to the Wall Street Journal).

And here’s something else you might not know:
Despite that broad national popularity, the play, which debuted in Canada fourteen years ago, has never been produced in New York - on or off Broadway – until now.

But forget the trivia.  Here’s really all you need to know:

The Drawer Boy finally has come to New York, in a terrific production by The Oberon Theatre Ensemble at the June Havoc Theatre in the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex on West 36th Street.  And now that it is here, it really is not to be missed.  I don’t know why it took so long to get here, but now that it has, I’d urge you to make every effort to see it.

The Drawer Boy is a gentle, sensitive, touching play of the kind that we don’t get to see much of anymore.  It focuses on the lives of two lifelong friends - Morgan (Brad Fryman), a farmer, and Angus (William Laney), the “drawer boy” of the play’s title  (Angus is so called because of the architectural sketches he made of houses that Morgan and he planned to build for themselves and their families at some time in the future.)

Morgan and Angus have been friends since childhood.  Canadian schoolmates, they subsequently went off together to Europe to fight in World War II, where they met, and fell in love with Frances and Sally, two tall British girls.  Angus suffered a head injury during the war which affected his short term memory but  Frances and Sally so loved Morgan and Angus in return that, despite Angus’ injury, they accompanied the boys back to Canada after the war so that the four of them might embark on new lives together.

But it didn‘t quite work out like that.  The play takes place in 1972 – forty years after the war – on a farm in central Ontario.  Morgan and Angus are farming the land, tending the chickens, milking the cows.  But Frances and Sally are nowhere to be seen.  As Morgan tells and re-tells the story to Angus, Frances and Sally died years ago in a tragic accident.  Or did they?

And then Miles (Alex Fast), a young actor eager to research the lives of real farmers as background for his play, shows up.  And as he delves deeper into the two farmers’ lives, unexpected truths emerge.  The lines between theatre and real life, between what one is told or what one remembers or what one wants to remember and what really happened increasingly are blurred.  And the stories that Morgan tells Angus take on a life of their own.

William Laney is extraordinary in the role of Angus, whose personality shifts from that of a mathematical idiot savant to that of a mentally challenged man who cannot recall from one moment to the next to whom he is speaking, who is submissively obedient to Morgan in one instant and angrily flailing out against what he can neither remember nor comprehend in the next.  Brad Fryman is equally impressive as Morgan, lovingly concerned for Angus who is as much his ward as his friend and tortured by the memories he carries within him and cannot share.  And Alex Fast is splendid as Miles, serious and conscientious in his craft but at the same time bumbling and incompetent.

All in all, a fine play with three  wonderful performances.  Go see it.

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