- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

“You’ll always be my best friend. You know too much” is a popular phrase on T-shirts and throw pillows.

You could say that the risks and rewards of best friendship is the theme of Canadian playwright Michael Healey’s deft three-character piece, “The Drawer Boy,” but the emotional depths he plumbs in this quietly involving play would never fit neatly on a shirt or pillow.

This is one of those works that slowly, delectably sneaks up on you. At first, you might deem it a folksy commentary on farm life versus city life — its laughs and insights are of the soft, chuckling “Prairie Home Companion” variety.

Just as you are lulled into a pleasant reverie, however, “The Drawer Boy” starts to examine so much more — art versus truth, story versus fact, friendship versus dependency. Mr. Healey, once an actor himself, never knocks you over the head with these arcing ideas. Instead, he unassumingly presents them as part of the thrum of life.



“The Drawer Boy” starts out as a typical fish-out-of-water comedy. Morgan (Mitchell Hebert) and Angus (Marty Lodge) are two bachelor farmers in Ontario in the 1970s. Their days are circumscribed by chores and farm work — and they like it that way.

Morgan and Angus have been friends since boyhood — they even served in World War II together. Morgan is the strong, silent type. Angus is an odder duck, due to a brain injury that happened during the war. He is a man of considerable intelligence but with no short-term memory. Then Miles (Eric Sutton) drops in, an overeducated city youth from Toronto who wants to experience farm life as research for a play he’s writing. Most of the first act concerns Morgan’s barely disguised merriment in pulling Miles’ leg about agricultural matters — making him wash gravel, pick through the cow manure with a tiny fork in a search for undigested corn, “rotating” the crops by having Miles move plantings from one side of the barn to the other.

Miles may be naive about farming, but not about everything. He is an actor who views all of life as material. So when he overhears Morgan telling Angus the oft-told tale of their lives together, he has no qualms about using the story verbatim in his play.

Miles’ presence on the farm not only alters the relationship between the two friends, it changes something in Angus’ head. After all these years of habit and careful routine, Angus starts to regain shards of memory. He begins to recall things, and not all of it jibes with Morgan’s version of what happened.

The friendship that seemed so simple, so firmly anchored in devotion and honest work, in reality is heartbreakingly complex. Angus and Morgan know too much about each other, and “The Drawer Boy” hauntingly assesses the price of such deep, devastating intimacy.

At what point does responsibility become mutual dependency? Mr. Healey’s insights into the briared terrain of friendship are elevated by three dynamic performances.

Marty Lodge is superb as Angus, uncannily capturing the speech patterns of a man unused to conversation and unable to remember from one minute to the next.

His portrayal is so tender and beautifully observed that the comedy of his situation rises naturally out of character — there is no sense of poking fun at a disabled person.

Mr. Lodge captivates because he seems to be such a good listener as well as a fine actor, and Mr. Hebert shares this quality. Mr. Hebert gives us a Morgan who is taciturn almost to the point of parody, but there is nothing passive in his silences. Morgan seems to draw strength and knowledge from the air around him, from the sounds of the farm and the peacefulness of nature.

As the disruptive Miles, Mr. Sutton possesses the self-absorbed recklessness of youth tempered with an emerging sensitivity. Through his time with Angus and Morgan, Miles learns what is sacred and what can be exploited.

Above all else, “The Drawer Boy” is a reminder that friendship is sacred and that good friends can survive falsehoods — and the truth.

***1/2

WHAT: “The Drawer Boy” by Michael Healey

WHERE: Round House Theatre, East-West Highway and Waverly Street, Bethesda

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Oct. 12.

TICKETS: $29 to $39

PHONE: 240/644-1100

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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