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The Drawer Boy

Review by Carol Little

The Drawer Boy, written by Michael Henley and directed by Duncan McIntosh, played at the Victoria Playhouse from September 9th to the 25th. The actors are veteran of stage and screen, Wally MacKinnon; seasoned favourite and founding Artistic Director of the Victoria Playhouse, Erskine Smith; and Victoria Playhouse newcomer, Ben Rayner.

The play is set in 1972 in a farmhouse kitchen, in a small community in Central Ontario. Miles (Rayner), a young man in his twenties, knocks on the farmhouse door and asks to stay and observe the two men who live there, Morgan (MacKinnon) and Angus (Smith), in the day to day life and work of a farm for two weeks as a form of hands-on research in order to study for an acting role in a realistic play about farming. What ensues is a combination of rural and urban culture clash with Morgan less than enthusiastic about having a city kid in his business and the unraveling of a tragedy that has been buried in the memories of Morgan and Angus for thirty years.

The play is both a comedy and a drama, drawing on the rigors of rural farm life, love and loss, and companionship to weave a compassionate story about two middle aged farming men and a young actor who find truth, trust and friendship in the telling and retelling of the coming of age story of the two farmers, and long hours of laborious work in the fields.

Repeated throughout the play is the story of Morgan and Angus, the farmer and the drawer, as young men who went off to London to fight in World War II and met their wives and the tragic accident that caused Angus to lose his short-term memory. Angus struggles to capture and retrieve the memories of his past in order to be able to move on with his future.

The theme of farm life, and life in general, is explained by Morgan concisely by the words “if you don’t produce, you die”. These words are the tie that finally brings Morgan and Miles to a mutual understanding and acceptance that allows them to appreciate the other’s earnest effort and struggle to survive.

MacKinnon played the understated role of Morgan with expert subtlety and timing. Smith gave a compelling portrayal of the simple minded, well-meaning, meek and kindhearted Angus, while Rayner’s Victoria Playhouse debut was a definite success. Victoria playhouse closes on a high note with The Drawer Boy as the final play of the 24th season.

The Drawer Boy debuted in Ontario in 1999, and has been performed throughout Canada since then and has recently played on numerous stages in the United States. It is the most produced play in North America in the last two years and was popularized when Tony Award winning actor John Mahoney, who played the character Marty Crane on the popular television series Frasier performed in the spring of this year at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in the role of Morgan.

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