From the moment that a bouncing young man knocks on the front door of a rural Canadian farmhouse and steps into the lives of two inseparable friends, we understand that something special is going to happen. Not because there’s a sense of foreshadowing or impending action or even dialogue that indicates an upcoming event in the plot, but because there’s a small but vibrant spirit about Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy that makes the play feel so acutely alive.
Healey’s extraordinary story begins in 1972 Ontario when aspiring actor Miles (Eric Sutton) visits farmers Angus (Marty Lodge) and Morgan (Mitchell HÃ©bert) and offers his helping hand in exchange for permission to “research ” life on the farm for a performance piece with his theatre group. His intent is to discover the secrets of a livelihood that entails endless cycles of “growing, killing, harvesting, reaping, and then destroying ” life. What he also discovers are two World War II veterans who have come to depend on each other in every imaginable way, doting after one another with the unconditional care of a mother and child, bickering like husband and wife, and sharing as two brothers who demonstrate no signs of rivalry.
Lodge’s Angus is a bumbling genius who appreciates simple gestures and counts the stars in the night sky. An accident during the war has left his memory shattered, and it is Morgan who preserves their life-long memories together and keeps them safe. Since Angus can only recall certain events from his past in pieces and parts, each day is a new one and he won’t remember anything tomorrow. Every night he begs Morgan to tell the story of “The Drawer Boy, ” and Morgan willingly obliges, narrating his deeply affecting account of two boys — the drawer boy and the farmer boy — who grow up together, share three boots in the war together, marry women together, and build a house together that is “separate but joined. ” It is a profound and absorbing story and through HÃ©bert’s interpretation becomes so intimate and compelling that we sit with Angus, childlike and wanting, while he indulges us.
It’s a mighty big story, and when Miles overhears it one night he promptly ditches his mooing cow monologues and tales of barnyard woes for this gemstone jackpot. It’s a hit with the theatre folk and a subsequent production is launched, with Morgan and Angus invited. The unanticipated consequences for Angus and his memory forever alter the relationship between the two friends and serve as a catalyst for questions about time and space in his convoluted past.
What begins as a tale that strives to define love and friendship and what it means to offer “support ” becomes a bittersweet examination of how fragile and slippery memories are, and how we choose to recollect them. Truth gradually shifts over time, and details are lost with the passing of every hour. Even with the best intentions, is it safe to steal memories or manipulate them? And what if they are your own?
Round House directing regular Daniel De Raey evokes superb performances from the trio and gives the production a distinct cinematic quality. Lodge gives a supple performance in a role that resonates long after the curtain calls end. HÃ©bert’s Morgan is understated but offers abundant laughs, especially at the expense of Miles and his farming foibles.Â When Miles asks how he copes with all of the hardships of working on the farm, Morgan wryly proffers, “It’s an emotional roller coaster. ” While the role of Miles is not as fleshed out as the other pair, Sutton still presents an honest performance with conviction.
As Miles starts out on the farm vigilantly searching for the divine inspiration that surrounds the mysteries of birth and death, he learns all about milking cows and feeding chickens, shoveling hay and crop rotation. But it is when he stumbles upon the lessons of two veterans and the stories of their lives slowly unravel that he gets so much more than he bargained for. And with Round House’s luxurious production, so do we.