by Lynn on March 7, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michael Healey

Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

Set and costumes by Joanna Yu

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound and composition by Michelle Bensimon

Cast: Graham Conway

Craig Lauzon

Andrew Moodie

A production that realizes Michael Healey’s beautiful play with care, respect and wonderful acting.

 The Story. A naïve young Toronto man named Miles (Graham Conway) comes to the farm of Morgan (Andrew Moodie) and Angus (Craig Lauzon) to gather stories about a farmer’s life. Miles is part of an acting collective who are all gathering stories that will be performed for the collective and formed into a play. Morgan is the main farmer on that property and has a wicked sense of humour that uses Miles’ naivety by telling him to: wash the pebbles on the walk-way, prepare to rotate the crops one afternoon, and to rearrange the eggs under different hens to confuse them so they won’t be upset when the eggs are taken away.   Angus also works on the farm but in a limited way. He and Morgan are boyhood friends, who grew up together, went to war together and when Angus got hurt in an air raid leaving him somewhat brain-damaged with no short-term memory, Morgan felt responsible and took care of Angus since then. Morgan has lived with a secret about what happened for all those years.

The Production. Joanna Yu has designed the rough-hewn outline of Morgan and Angus’ farm-house. The porch and steps are weathered wood. There is a line of stones that border the porch. The kitchen is neat, clean and functional. Many sandwiches are made there up stage at the kitchen counter, and eaten down from there at the table.

Yu has also designed the costumes. For Morgan and Angus the clothes are work pants and shirts, and a vest as well for Morgan. Considering that Morgan does most of the work I think his clothes are a bit too pristine and not worn down enough, a quibble I know, but still noticeable. Miles initially wears a t-shirt and shorts, until he realizes that long-pants will protect his legs from the dangers of farm work

Director Nina Lee Aquino has tackled the play with care and sensitivity. She does not go for sentimentality even though there are ample opportunities for it. She guides her three actors with a firm but gentle hand.

As Miles, Graham Conway is a sweet innocent from the city trying to do his job as an actor gathering stories in the country. Miles is eager, trusting, accommodating and eventually he catches on to the truth about Morgan and Angus.

Craig Lauzon as Angus, gives a beautifully modulated performance of a man floating in a haze of lost memory. He stands in the kitchen, confused, wondering what it was he was supposed to do there. He is never frustrated by this lapse because he’s not aware it’s a lapse. Angus is a gentle giant of a man who eventually is startled into seeing clearly and remembering. It’s a performance of detail, emotion and passion. It’s wonderful.

Andrew Moodie plays Morgan with a matter of fact confidence. He does a good job of realizing playwright Michael Healey’s wit, subtle humour and sense of responsibility Morgan has for Angus. I do wish though that Moodie would not swallow his words and mumble as often as he does. Morgan is a man of few words. They all must be heard and it’s had to do if they are being dropped at the end of a sentence or not enunciated.

Comment. Michael Healey wrote The Drawer Boy in 1999 in which he references in part, the creation of The Farm Show (1972). The Farm Show is the play that was created by Paul Thompson and a collection of Toronto actors who went to the farming community around Clinton, Ont. to gather their stories, distil them and form them into a play. A young member of that collective was Miles Potter who began as an actor and has developed into a respected director. He is the “Miles” in The Drawer Boy.

 Over the years The Drawer Boy has honoured with awards, had many productions around the world and has a well-earned reputation as a play that symbolizes a part of Canada. It’s a play about charity, generosity, forgiveness, friendship, trust, kindness and love. Healey has a wonderful facility with language, humour and human frailties. He doesn’t make fun of someone maliciously—we laugh gently at Miles when he truly believes that they will rotate crops in an afternoon. Even when Morgan’s secret is revealed we realize that Morgan held that secret to save Angus from further anguish.

So in light of the point and message of the play, I found Assistant Director Cole Alvis’s program note disturbing because of an imposed misguided agenda. Alvis cites Jesse Wente comments about cultural appropriation that he made on CBC Metro Morning.

Avis continues: “By casting Craig Lauzon (Ojibway), Andrew Moodie (West Indian-Canadian) alongside queer white emerging artist Graham Conway, this production brings a cultural urgency to the acts of appropriation that live in the play. The opportunity to shape a story based on lived experience is powerful and when a story is told by another the results can be devastating.“ Excuse me? “…this production brings a cultural urgency to the acts of appropriation that live in the play.” REALLY??? This isn’t interpretation;  it’s foisting an agenda on a play that does not support it.

Let me go out on a limb here: an actor’s ability to realize the playwright’s intention through his characters should be paramount as to why he is hired, not his ethnicity or sexual preference. The success of this production of The Drawer Boy is realized because the actors and their director have the talent to do right by the play and the playwright.

Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille.

Opened: March 6, 2018.

Closes: March 25, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Andy McKim March 8, 2018 at 1:59 pm

Lynn, I am pleased to see that you liked our production of The Drawer Boy. But I think you are way off base with your comments about Cole Alvis’s program note. Let me explain what I mean.
In the play’s dialogue we learn that a young actor- Miles -overhears a story about two men- Angus & Morgan. This is a story that the two men tell each other and that they never intended for him to hear. Then Miles transcribes this story and uses it in the production of a play he is working on. He does not ask them for permission to use their story. And further he argues- in the dialogue -for his right to use the story. His claim is that he can use it because he has to contribute to the play he is working on and without this story he will be fired from the play. So to summarize, one man steals the story of two other men without their knowledge or agreement and uses that story to promote his own fortunes, without discussing it with those two men. That is a text book example of what appropriation is.
Cole was pointing out how this story about appropriation, which Michael Healey has written, takes on more significance when the young actor who steals the story is white and the two older gentleman, whose story is stolen, happen to be Ojibway & West Indian-Canadian.
You are not “out on a limb” with your comments…you have actually fallen out of the tree.
What you witnessed was “the actors and their director…do(ing) right by the play and the playwright”
As Micheal Healey eloquently explained last night at “Eggrolls With Andy”, when answering my question about the issue of appropriation as dramatized in his play, he affirmed that this was his intention and that this casting has helped to bring his play into a contemporary place with reference to appropriation.