Re­mem­brance of plays past

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews -

The Drawer Boy is a play that has as much open space and si­lence in it as the place it de­picts — an iso­lated farm near Clin­ton, On­tario. When a com­pany of ac­tors from Toronto de­scend on a ru­ral Cana­dian com­mu­nity in the 1970s with the idea of cre­at­ing a theater piece based on the sto­ries they hear and the lives they ob­serve, one of them, a young man named Miles, ends up board­ing at a farm owned by An­gus and Mor­gan, two men who have lived there and taken care of each other since World War II. The ar­rival of the ac­tor at the farm causes an up­heaval that un­set­tles a nar­ra­tive frame­work con­structed long ago — myths the farm­ers re­peat over and over about what hap­pened to them dur­ing and af­ter the war.

The farm­ers are tac­i­turn — to say the least — and The Drawer Boy delivers nar­ra­tive value in si­lence as much as it does in its di­a­logue. Watch­ing kitchen rit­u­als per­formed silently by An­gus, one be­gins to be­come aware that he might not be “all there.” He and Mor­gan served in Eng­land dur­ing the war, and to Mor­gan’s eter­nal re­gret, he sent his friend out dur­ing an air raid on an er­rand from which An­gus never fully re­turned. The sol­dier suf­fered a head wound and lost his abil­ity to re­mem­ber al­most any­thing.

An­gus used to draw, thus the ti­tle of the play, and he re­tains a sa­vant’s abil­ity to do com­pli­cated math prob­lems. Oth­er­wise, he is un­able to re­mem­ber things he did, words he once knew, or peo­ple he just met. That Mor­gan, who runs the farm, seems per­fectly will­ing to take care of his friend for the rest of his life seems some­how mys­te­ri­ous. There is no sug­ges­tion that the re­la­tion­ship has any ro­man­tic over­tones.

The play hinges on Miles’ eaves­drop­ping while Mor­gan re­cites the story of the two sol­diers at war. An­gus re­mem­bers, word by word, but he needs to hear the story daily — es­pe­cially the part about the two tall Bri­tish women who trav­eled back from Europe to join them on the farm, and how they died in a car ac­ci­dent and were buried on top of a hill nearby. When the ac­tor “bor­rows” this tale for the de­vel­op­ing theater piece and the two farm­ers are in­vited to come to a re­hearsal, Mor­gan might be an­gry about hav­ing his story co-opted, but An­gus is trans­formed. Some­thing in his psy­che wakes up. It is as if his me­mory has been jogged by an­other bomb blast. He sud­denly has doubt and cu­rios­ity — a need for in­for­ma­tion that he has left un­ques­tioned (or for­got­ten) for years.

What Michael Healey, the play­wright, sug­gests, is that cre­ativ­ity not only has the power to ex­plode the re­pres­sions that in­hibit us but that the act of cre­at­ing a play based on un­re­mark­able peo­ple’s sto­ries is or can be trans­for­ma­tive for the sub­jects them­selves. It’s an in­ter­est­ing idea upon which to hang a 90-minute play, and the lack of the work’s ver­bal dy­nam­ics and the­atri­cal fire­works is to its credit. Quiet is the rule.

As the brain-dam­aged farmer, An­gus, Jonathan Dixon does a su­perb job, un­der­play­ing the char­ac­ter’s mental dis­abil­i­ties. The di­rec­tor, David Olson, has al­lowed the script a lot of breath­ing room, and the mo­ments when Dixon of­fers spoon­fuls of fresh cof­fee to his friend, makes sand­wiches, and sim­ply looks out into space are of­ten touch­ing.

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