By Michael Healey
Directed by Scott Weinstein
At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago
Life-long Friendship Tested
Redtwist Theatre once more mounts an excellent production of Michael Healey’s 1999 drama. The Drawer Boy was inspired by a Canadian legend – actors from Toronto travel to rural Ontario to live with and learn about farm life in order to build a play from their experiences. It is 1972 and the thespians perform their play, The Farm, in rural barns throughout the Province.
In The Drawer Boy, we meet two friends living and working a farm in 1972 rural Ontario. Angus (Brian Parry) and his friend Morgan (Adam Bitterman) run their farm through a harmonious daily ritual based on Morgan being the farmer and Angus being the cook, housekeeper, and accountant. Tolerance, trust, and routine rule their lives. They seem content until a young actor, Miles (Aaron Kirby) arrives at the farm asking to learn about farming by living and working with Morgan and Angus.
Morgan demands that Miles actually work the farm and assigns Miles to useless chores like rotating the crops and washing stones. Miles is a naive farmer but a determined researcher, who questions and probes Morgan and Angus for their story. The questions are at first innocent but over time they set off all three on a powerful journey as Morgan and Angus relive the story of the events that shaped their lives.
Angus, we quickly discover, has instant memory loss that doesn’t allow him to remember things in the present once a new thought or idea is presented to him. But he does remember somethings from his past. He always knows who Morgan is, yet he constantly asks who and what is Miles doing at the farm. As the story unfolds, Morgan almost daily sits Angus down to retell him about being in London during World War II when each found their soul mates. But when a Nazi bomb explodes on a London building sending a flying door into Angus’ head, injuring him and causing amnesia that results in day-to-day memory problems, Morgan and Angus’ life is altered forever.
We grow to love the gentleness and genuine honesty of Angus and we see the bond that he has with Morgan, the no-nonsense farmer. Miles is able to get close to Angus as we witness a moving scene that finds Miles trying to explain the plot of Hamlet to Angus. Once Miles overhears Morgan tell Angus “their” story, he submits that story as his contribution to the farm play in progress. After Morgan and Angus attend the play’s rehearsal, Angus seems sharper, yet Morgan is furious feeling that Miles has betrayed the two friends by stirring up old memories.
But the healing power of art manifests itself as old truths and convenient lies are shattered as each of the three are altered by revelation of old secrets. The Drawer Boy is a moving, subtle drama that never plays as sentimental. The wonderful understated work by Beian Parry as Angus anchors the story. Adam Bitterman’s subdued guilt as Morgan is strongly performed, while Aaron Kirby marvelously plays the clueless farm hand- actor. The Drawer Boy is also about youth’s missed opportunities.
The Drawer Boy is a touching story about a most empathetic character with whom we quietly cheer for since we see him as a gentle soul deserving of a happy life. The triumph of the human spirit and the healing power of art, friendship, and loyalty rule The Drawer Boy. This uplifting play is beautifully performed and respectful of Michael Healey’s wonderful writing. It is engrossing and heartfelt, with a mysterious element that keeps us involved. The honesty of Morgan’s stories can test his bond with Angus, while Miles gains more that scenes for his play. The clever plot twists sure gives Morgan his high status. That friendship can be a lifetime commitment becomes the show’s message. The three actors are wonderful, with Brian Parry once again demonstrating that he is a Chicago treasure.
At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL call 773-728-7529, www.redtwist.org, tickets $30- $35 (seniors & students $5 off), Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2hours with intermission.