The Drawer Boy
Award winning The Drawer Boy seems as bucolic as home-grown, home-baked bread, but delves deeply into the truth of human relationships. On February 6th, The Drawer Boy written by Michael Healey, directed by Casey Stangl, and featuring three actors new to the Jungle stage (Wayne Evenson, Kurt Schweickhardt, and Tony Clarno) opened Jungle's 2004 season. This is a humorous yet highly emotional look at an unusual relationship between two men who have been companions since childhood and who now live together, scratching out a living on a piece of land which barely supports them. It is a strongly acted and moving production, although the passage of time and the distances of various locations from one another could have been indicated more clearly.
The play opens as Angus, a sweet and almost childlike middle-aged man stares off into space, then goes through a set of highly routine behaviors. This is puzzling until we learn that it was an injury Angus received in England during WW II, that has caused the problem and the condition provokes much of the play's humor. Angus is portrayed by Schweickhardt, who has an amazing ability to convey the blandness of a man without a memory. With Morgan's constant care, Angus is able to function at a fairly basic level, even making and baking the bread that is obviously their staff of life. Angus spends much of his time carefully getting loaves out of their capacious bread box, slicing the bread and making sandwiches which the portly Morgan thrives on. Unfortunately, with his faulty recall, Angus sometimes burns the loaves, which are then fed to the farm animals.
Wayne Evenson plays Morgan as a man of great tolerance for Angus's shortcomings, a caretaker, but one who leaves no question that he is in charge. As Morgan, Evenson's physically strong presence clearly conveys the impression that farming is not for the weak, and he conveys with no uncertainty that it can be a dangerous and unforgiving way of life. He lays these lessons out for Miles, a young actor played by Tony Clarno, who has come to the farm to live and write a section of a play about farm life as part of a theater project. (Such a project was actually carried out in 1972, by a theater group from Toronto.) As Miles, Clarno projects a naivete which could have been played with a bit more irony, in spite of the fact that Miles is new to farming. Still, he makes his character's interaction with the two older men believable, especially his sympathy and concern for Angus and his youthful willingness to accomplish the tasks assigned to him by Morgan, who allows him to stay at the farm only if he is willing to earn his keep, in spite of the fact that he is obviously unsuited for farm work.
Once Miles is established on the farm, Angus greets him every day with a smile and cheerful "Hi, hello, who are you," which is followed by, "Why are you here?" As time passes Miles learns about a complicated myth that maintains the relationship between the two men when he overhears, and eavesdrops on, Morgan telling Angus the story of their lives together, a nightly ritual which Angus demands, in a scene reminiscent of George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Miles 'borrows' their story to use in the theater piece and thereby unbalances the state of equilibrium that has existed for years and has preserved their lives together.
Morgan and Angus discover the 'theft' when they attend a rehearsal of the play. The effect on both men is profound: positive for Angus, who begins to break out of his shell, curious and demanding; and negative for Morgan, who wants to maintain the status quo and who becomes defensive as well as angry at Miles. The comfortable layers of myth blanketing their relationship begin to be peeled away layer by layer in an out of control rush toward the truth. In the closing scenes of the play, the raw emotional effect of this unfolding has a terrific impact on all three of the characters, and the skill of the actors at conveying this depth of feeling is amazing.
The introduction of an outsider into a static situation is one of the oldest plot devices in the history of the theater, but it's still an effective way to tell a story. In the hands of this director and cast, it delivers an emotional punch to which the opening night crowd responded enthusiastically.
Bain Boehlke's realistic set encloses the action effectively, revealing both the interior and the exterior of the house as the sounds of the machines and animals in Katharine Horowitz's sound design constantly remind us we're in farm country. Barry Browning's light design moves us from day to night and back again unobtrusively, and Amelia Cheever's costumes are appropriate to the time period and the characters.
The Drawer Boy plays through March 14th at 7:30 P.M. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8:00 P.M. on Friday and Saturdays, and 2:00 P.M. and 7:30 P.M. on Sundays. Ticket prices range from $20 to $30 with a $2.00 discount for students and seniors. Rush tickets are available at $10, 30 minutes before curtain. Phone (612) 822-7063.