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The Drawer Boy

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A few minutes into the Saturday matinee of Michael Healey's three-hander the third character appeared onstage, the actor nearly unrecognizable in a rumpled flannel shirt and sun-bleached baseball cap. An older audience member in the back row, not yet immersed in the story, murmured breathlessly, reverentially, as if his favorite baseball player had stepped up to the plate, "Hal Landon." Indeed. Landon Jr. has more than earned the near-sports-legend status and the adoration of his fans, yet with this production he outdoes himself. As part generous-hearted, part martinet Canadian farmer Morgan, Landon is immersed to his fingertips in the onstage life. His dialogue sounds fresh, his physicality is convincing: Landon could easily be both fieldworker and nurse. Happily he is assisted by the finely detailed work of Jimmie Ray Weeks as Morgan's mentally damaged buddy, Angus, as well as the show's other star: James Youmans' farm kitchen set, its walls semi-transparent to reveal the surrounding grassy fields.

Martin Benson directs this production tenderly, letting the feel of farm life surround the characters and the audience, allowing the events of the play to crest faultlessly, nurturing the Damon and Pythias relationship. But somehow the production fails to fully satisfy. It could be the conceit of the third wheel, the actor who visits the Ontario farm to learn about farm life in preparation for a theatrical production. Granted the script is based on a real-life theatrical troupe that moved in with local farmers. Yet onstage here, Miles is an unfulfilling catalyst for the unfolding story. J. Todd Adams plays him with youthful energy and the good-natured naivete the script requires, but Miles' part in peeling away layers as his actorly analysis delves into the pair's life seems superficial and contrived.

It could also be the presence of that third chair. We meet the farmers as Miles arrives in their lives, and we soon learn the pair is reclusive. Yet the kitchen includes a third chair sociably pulled up to the round table. It takes until near the end of the play to realize an additional character does not live in the house, by which time the story has fully unfolded, leaving us and our theories far behind.

With its poetic language and many moments of insight, the play is as good a metaphor for the healing power of storytelling as is the tale told here. But if the storytelling leaves the listener confused or distracted for any reason, it leaves us with a small scar.

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