Review: THE DRAWER BOY (Festival Players in Prince Edward County)

by Lynn on August 9, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Studio Theatre, Festival Players, Wellington, Ont. (Prince Edward County)

Written by Michael Healey

Directed by Graham Abbey

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Lindsay Forde

Music by George Meanwell

Cast: Benedict Campbell

John Dolan

Marcel Stewart

A beautifully rendered production of Michael Healey’s poignant play of friendship, deception, guilt and forgiveness. This is the best production of this play that I have seen over the years.

The Story. Morgan and Angus have been friends since childhood. They grew up together, enlisted to fight in WWII, and when Angus sustained a head injury in an air raid in London, England they came home together. Morgan feels responsible for Angus and so they own a farm and work it together with Morgan taking care of him in his more fragile moments. Angus’ immediate memory is gone. He has ‘spells’. He gets flustered easily. But he’s a wiz at math.

One day they are visited by a Miles, a young actor from Toronto. He’s there with a troupe of actors who are going to do a play about farm life. Miles wants to know if he can stay there for a bit and watch how they farm so he can create a segment for the show.  Morgan plays on Miles’ lack of knowledge about framing for humourous effect. At one point he has Miles scrubbing the pebbles on the pathway to the house, as if this is a reasonable chore. When Miles overhears Morgan and Angus talking he learns something unexpected. This starts a whole string of revelations, none of which I’m going to tell you.

 The Production. The play is presented in the new intimate Studio Theatre in Wellington, Ont. as part of the Festival Players Company. Designer Steve Lucas has put the audience on either side of the compact set of the farm kitchen with working sink, stove, counter tops, a round table and chairs. The outline of the farmhouse is suggested. The wall of the theatre is used as part of the set. It’s a black chalk board on which Lucas has drawn in white chalk a vista of the farmland, with a suggestion of an escarpment, a farm building and a silo. The sense of expanse is clear. Really clever drawing that this way.

To set the mood for this delicate, feisty play, master-musician George Meanwell plays music that is lilting, folksy and appropriate. He also has a wry way of telling us to turn off our various noisy devises.

Angus (John Dolan) enters the kitchen to make a sandwich. He takes the bread out of the plastic bag of white bread, lines up the two slices meticulously, squirts ketchup on both slices and places a piece of meat on one slice of bread and folds the other slice on top. He then puts the sandwich on a plate. When Morgan (Benedict Campbell) arrives Angus offers a hearty, “Morgan Hello.” Morgan takes the sandwich and leaves. Angus looks confused at the empty plate but makes another sandwich.

When Miles (Marcel Stewart) arrives outside the kitchen door and knocks Angus is startled.  As Miles, Marcel Stewart is respectful in telling Angus who he is—explaining he’s an actor doing research for a play and wonders if he can stay there a few days helping out. A cloth bag is slung over his shoulder. He wears neat slacks and a t-shirt on which is the unmistakable head and face of 1970s (and onward) black activist Angela Davis. Without forcing an agenda costume designer, Lindsay Forde subtly helps in establishing a part of Miles’ character—Marcel Stewart is a black actor, hence Miles is black. Angus is flustered at this stranger and says that he will have to ask Morgan if he (Miles) can stay. Angus goes back to making his sandwich and forgets about Miles who sits outside and waits patiently for a decision. When we see Miles involved with farm chores in the next scene it’s obvious Morgan agreed to have Miles stay.

In Act II of the play we come into the middle of a scene in which Miles is telling Angus how the ghost of his father says that his uncle killed him and then married his mother. And his girlfriend went mad and killed herself.

The story Miles is telling Angus is of course that of Hamlet—one presumes Miles was once in a production of the play and he wanted to tell Angus about it. To further broaden the character of Miles (at Marcel Stewart’s request), playwright Michael Healey added a story about Austin Stewart a black man born a slave who eventually got his freedom, became a prosperous businessman and moved to Canada to help establish the Wilberforce Colony.(Marcel Stewart starred in The Wilberforce Hotel at the Blyth Festival a few years ago). Stewart’s depiction of both stories is both thoughtful and compelling.

As director Graham Abbey confidently guides the story, it’s clear that Miles has created a schism in the well-ordered lives of Morgan and Angus. Abbey beautifully establishes the relationships of the three men as they play off each other. Miles asks questions Morgan might find intrusive. We wonder why. As Morgan, Benedict Campbell is gruff but contained. He obviously doesn’t want to upset Angus or indicate there is something to hide. And he is wonderfully funny without once telegraphing the ‘joke’. Marcel Steward as Miles is inquisitive without being pushy. He has a sweet innocence; initially he doesn’t read Morgan’s subtext, but then gets it. John Dolan plays Angus with a squinty gaze as if he is reacting to a headache or trying to find clarity in a fuzzy memory. All three men give beautifully truthful, complex performances.

 Comment. The show that is being created by these actors under the watchful eye of Paul Thompson was of course The Farm Show (1972). Miles is actually Miles Potter an actor who turned into a successful director. But in Michael Healey’s hugely successful play, he is mainly interested in the dynamic of the three men. There is so much to dissect in the piece but that would spoil the various surprises in the revealing of the story.

Suffice it to say Morgan is justified in his responsibility to take care of Angus. They have history. They are friends with one realizing how much he owes the other. This is a play of forgiveness, redemption, memory and kindness. And it’s being given an exquisite production.

Produced by the Festival Players

Began: Aug. 2, 2018.

Saw it: Aug. 5, 2018.

Closes: Aug. 18, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours, five minutes.

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