by Lynn on June 29, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Harvest Stage, Blyth, Ont. until July 16, 2022.

Written by Michael Healey

Directed by Gil Garratt

Set and Lighting by Steve Lucas

Sound by Lyon Smith

Costumes by Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston

Musicians: Graham Hargrove

Anne Lederman

Cast: Jonathan Goad

Randy Hughson

Cameron Laurie

A play about friendship and kindness.

The Story. The more productions I see of Michael Healey’s beautiful classic play, The Drawer Boy, the more the definition of what the play is really about changes. Sure it’s about a strong friendship and about guilt at hiding a secret, and kindness, and opening one’s house to a stranger who wants to learn about farming, and really about all of this. But for this production of the Blyth Festival, it’s kindness that wins out.

Morgan and Angus have been friends since childhood. They grew up together. Angus was a talented artist and beautiful drawer, hence the name “The Drawer Boy”. Morgan was destined to be a farmer. They both signed up to fight in WWII and stuck close together to keep out of harm’s way.  But one night in London, England when they were on leave, Angus was hurt in a freak accident, needed a steel plate put in his head as a result and lost his memory. Both men came back to Canada to farm together on a farm—Morgan took care of Angus and Angus did whatever chores he could. It was a very compatible situation.

But then Miles shows up. Miles was an actor from Toronto who had come to the country with a company of actors to learn about farming from the local farmers and would then put on a play about what they had learned. Miles just knocked on the door one day asking to follow Morgan and Angus around to learn about farming. Morgan and Angus got to know Miles, and Miles was eager to learn what they had to tell him, even if Morgan took full advantage of Miles being gullible.

The Production. The Harvest Stage continues to be beautiful, with a comfortable covering above our heads, giving some relief from the sun. The sun is setting over there, behind those trees and the pinks and oranges of the sky makes one want to just get up and go over there and see how glorious the sky is. But first we have this glorious play and Gil Garratt’s glorious production.

Steve Lucas has created a neat, efficient kitchen of a counterspace up stage with a fridge and stove incorporated. A table and chairs are down from that. Angus (Randy Hughson) appears from the door stage left. He wears a baseball cap, work clothes and sturdy boots. He looks a bit confused as if he’s not sure where he is. He goes to the bread box and pulls out a full loaf of sliced bread and gets some mustard and some sliced meat from the fridge and makes a sandwich, that he puts on a plate on the table. Morgan (Jonathan Goad) comes in from outside. Angus says, “Morgan, hello.” With barely a nod Morgan goes to the table, takes a bite out of the sandwich and leaves with the sandwich. Angus pauses slightly without emotion, then goes and makes another sandwich again, putting the sandwich on the plate to eat.

Miles (Cameron Laurie) appears by another outside door and knocks. Angus goes to the door to see who that is. Miles goes into a rush of introduction that says that he’s an actor with a visiting company of actors and is there to learn about how farmers to their work so that they can do a play about the experience. Angus listens without emotion. “Miles, hello.” Angus says that he has to ask Morgan about this to give permission. Then he closes the door on Miles, goes back to his sandwich, as Miles waits and waits and waits.

In this introductory scene we get the sense of Angus and his mental issues, as Randy Hughson as Angus, delicately, gently creates a portrait of a man who is perhaps simple-minded, methodical, efficient, neat but obviously has issues with connection and subtleties. And the way Hughson plays him, he is endearing as well. Jonathan Goad as Morgan takes charge and takes sandwiches without wondering if it’s for him or Angus. He’s initially gruff but that’s a veneer. As Miles, Cameron Laurie portrays a man out of his depth and awkward about it. He’s polite, accommodating, anxious to please, respectful and eager to make this work. He’s an actor who wants his contribution, other than the impression of a cow, to be used in the final show.

Miles is allowed to stay with Morgan and Angus and we see Morgan’s impish sense of humour—asking Miles to wash the stones in the pathway only to throw them in the culvert. Talking about rotating crops that afternoon—and Miles thinking this is reasonable. Miles has a trick or two himself.

There is a mystery about what happened to Angus and Miles inadvertently finds out about it by overhearing Morgan tell Angus ‘the story.’ And Miles uses that story in the finished play, One could question if the results were disastrous or fitting, but that’s part of the many layers of discovery in Michael Healey’s gentle play of friendship.

With Jonathan Goad as Morgan we see a man who is consumed with guilt at something that happened to Angus and his efforts to keep Angus safe, happy and cared for. Goad warns Miles in a quiet, pointed voice not to push too hard for the truth. We also see in Randy Hughson as Angus, a man who ‘remembers’ something in his murky memory and the emotion of the man gradually reveals itself. There is so much depth in these performances and in the production as directed by Gil Garratt. Garratt directs with such nuance and care. What I got from this production was not just a play of a profound friendship, but one of heart-squeezing kindness.

I do have a quibble. Musicians, Graham Hargrove on various percussive instruments and Anne Lederman on violin provide music as the audience fills in. Terrific. But they also provide musical and sound effects during the production and I found that intrusive and unnecessary. It ads a fussiness to the production that’s not necessary.

A quibble… its heart this is such a wonderful play and this production does it proud.  

Comment. Fifty years ago this June, a group of actors, led by director Paul Thompson, came to Clinton, Ontario, to create a new kind of theatre. They wanted to create a play about farming in that area. The farmers were inviting, trusting and accommodating to these actors and the resulting show was The Farm Show.

In 1995, actor Michael Healey was a member of the Blyth Festival Company and heard about the creation of The Farm Show and decided to write his own play about that creation and the idea of The Drawer Boy was born. The play was developed at the Blyth Festival in 1995, 1996 and 1997. It has become a Canadian classic and has played all over the country and internationally.  

Presented by the Blyth Festival:

Runs until July 16, 2022.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, (1 intermission)

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