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Old MacDonald had a Method: (l-r) Sitler, MacKenzie and McGee in The Drawer Boy.

Art Imitates Farming
By James Yeara

The Drawer Boy
By Michael Healy, directed by Laura Margolis
StageWorks, Kinderhook, through July 6

The Drawer Boy is the un likeliest of hits. The title tells little. (It is not a play about a young man with a furniture fetish.) The playwright isn’t well-known outside of his native Canada. The setting and characters lack any cachet: Plays set in the middle of Ontario lack the panache associated with Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto or even the coast of Prince Edward Island. The plot doesn’t feature murder, mayhem, forbidden love, or quests against evil; instead, a young actor looking to contribute to an ensemble play about life on the farm stays with two reticent farmers, one of whom is brain-damaged. The aesthetics don’t promise much: The Drawer Boy is Canadian naturalism about life on a farm 31 years ago (that includes memories of events in 1941). The Drawer Boy has nothing going for it.

Except that unlikely as it sounds, The Drawer Boy is sneaky good. Without pretense, without flashy sets, costumes or performances, without all the puffed-up self-importance that swaggers in certain summer-stock locales, StageWorks puts on a firefly of a play. Just as there is a delight in watching fireflies over a meadow in late June, there’s a nostalgic pleasure—without sentimentality—in The Drawer Boy. From scenic designer Ruben Arana-Downs’ realistic set to the down-to-earth acting of the three-man cast to Laura Margolis’ deft direction, The Drawer Boy is a hit. This is a production whose humor, thoughtfulness and honesty shouldn’t be missed.

The down-on-its-luck farmhouse set (complete with hay strewn around the cluttered yard) creates the perfect ambience for The Drawer Boy. The play centers on Angus (Robert Ian Mackenzie, who looks and acts like Patrick Stewart’s better brother), a gaunt, gray-stubbled farmer whose head injury—sustained during the World War II—leaves him unable to remember anything except Morgan (David Sitler), his childhood friend and co-owner of the struggling farm. The two scratch out a living from the farm, and half the humor and wonder of the play is provided by the insights into farm life and the intricate connections between the two men: Angus’ attempts to recollect the forgotten portions of his life cause him frequent headaches, which Morgan staves off by calling, “Angus, make me a sandwich.” Angus’ immediate reaction—to stop everything and make a sandwich, no matter if Morgan already has one in his hands—gets laughs, but the relationship between the two men deepens with each interaction.

Thrusting himself into this duo is Miles (Kirk McGee, who was excellent in his multiple roles in StageWorks’ Play by Play: Now and Then), a young actor from Toronto desperate to add verisimilitude to his company’s performance-art piece about farm life. Miles’ naiveté and energy find a mirror in Angus: What Miles discovers on the farm, Angus rediscovers. The Drawer Boy mingles its farm life and its theatrical life; as Morgan and Angus struggle to produce produce, Miles struggles to produce some drama to add to his collective’s drama. What would have been a simple character study becomes a play about the nature of plays, of acting, of storytelling, of the therapeutic power of theater.

This adds some set-piece humor to The Drawer Boy: Miles learning to “moo” Method acting-style, as the cows moo, and adding a simultaneous English translation to the mooing (“Mooooo, must produce milk. Moooo, I don’t want to be slaughtered”) says all anyone needs to know about performance art. But there is pathos in Miles connecting to Angus by telling him the story of Hamlet, as if Miles were Hamlet; and in Miles learning the story of Angus and Morgan, and then adding their story to his play (to Angus’ joy and Morgan’s anger). The Drawer Boy’s seemingly simple pleasures hold more than the play’s premise, and more insights than its surface seems to promise. It’s a play that will be difficult to forget for anyone who sees it, and impossible to remember without smiling.

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