What was the real story behind the lives of farmers Angus and Morgan? Who knew the truth, and when did they know it? These are the questions at the heart of Michael Healey's tender/tough play about friends, memory, and the unnatural bond imposed by lies. The two old Canadian farmers, living lives of self-imposed isolation, rich in friendship, short on material belongings, are infiltrated by a young method actor, Miles (Brian Taylor), who needs to live the farming life in order to play it on stage. Based on a historic chapter in Canadian theatre history, when a group of young actors from Toronto went off to study an Ontario farming community, lived with farm families, worked on the farms, and collected stories from the families, Miles descends on the two friends and practices his rural naiveté at the considerable social, economic and emotional expense of the two.
Angus (Chip Heller), a simple soul with no malevolence in him, although a numbers savant, has a short-term memory problem as a result, Miles is told, of a WWII accident when a door fell on him in war-time London. If this sounds like the old excuse given by the wife who shows up at work with a black eye because she bumped into a door, that is, in fact, what it is. Angus has no memory of the incident, only an oft-told story spoon-fed to him by Morgan (Robert Budaska), in a memorable echo of the stories told to Lennie by George in Of Mice and Men. Miles overhears Morgan's attenuated telling of the story and incorporates it into his stage performance to which he invites the two men, with divergent results. Morgan, obviously with something to hide, bans the boy from the house, while Angus miraculously starts regaining his lost past. Or does he? When Miles tells him Hamlet's story, Angus begins to remember that too as part of his past. Highly emotional, if a tad manipulative, Healey's play is nevertheless compelling in performance by the actors playing the two aging friends. Budaska is a forthright actor, somewhat reminiscent, at this particular moment in time, of Tom McCulloh, who sadly passed away two weeks ago. Heller is an amazingly real Angus, sensitive, touching and sad/funny in a gentle way. Taylor is overly witless as the supposedly urban Miles; as the role is written, he's a bit too cute for realism: While the story-telling hooks the audience, it takes up a leisurely portion of the play, and then is repeated a number of times as both Miles and Angus re-tell their versions.
David Rose milks the play for its sentimentality and, to give him credit, equally for its humor. His art is in his directorial digits and his interpretive staging proves it, helped along by Drew Dalzell's sound design and Lisa D. Katz' lighting. Scenic designer David Potts' farm kitchen is fastidiously reproduced to period 1972 with MacAnd ME's properties, as are A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes—Miles' '70s flares and poncho tops, and Angus' and Morgan's artistically dirty overalls.
"The Drawer Boy," presented by and at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. (Also Sat. Apr. 17 & 24, 3 p.m. and Thu. Apr. 29 & May 6 at 8 p.m.) Apr. 10-May 9. $23-32. (818) 558-7000.