The Drawer Boy,” an award-winning drama by Canadian playwright Michael Healey, is the staged version of a cross between the novels “Of Mice and Men” and “Flowers for Algernon,” but with a twist.
Much like the title, which refers to a boy who draws and not a boy in a drawer, the meaning of this play could easily be misconstrued. It isn’t so much misleading as it is complex.
The action focuses on simpleton Angus, portrayed in this Hampton Theatre Company production in Quogue by Edward A. Brennan, and his gruff friend, Morgan, portrayed by Joe Pallister. The way of life for these two elderly Canadian farmers is disrupted by the appearance of a young actor, Miles, portrayed by Ben Schnickel, who is intent on studying their agrarian ways for use in a local theatrical production.
But what happens in this play, directed for HTC by Sarah Hunnewell, is a whole lot less about life on the farm as it is about a fairy tale that has been carefully crafted.
Angus, a likeable fellow played affably and endearingly by Mr. Brennan, suffers from a debilitating mental disorder that has seemingly eradicated his short-term memory and dealt significant damage to much of his long-term memory as well. He’s a big, sweet, childlike guy who means well but needs a lot of supervision.
The first few moments that Morgan is on stage sets up him up to be a bad guy, a bully. What he does—nonchalantly taking a sandwich painstakingly made by Angus for himself—is the equivalent of stealing candy from a baby. The audience soon learns that Morgan, played with brooding depth and intensity by Mr. Pallister, isn’t actually mean but he does have a tough hide, which is necessary for his, as well as for his friend’s, survival.
Mr. Schnickel’s Miles is in turns naive, perceptive, silly, boundary pushing and empathetic. He is the unwitting catalyst for all that is to come.
“The Drawer Boy” is definitely a drama but there are funny parts as well. There’s a running gag where Morgan tasks the farm-incompetent Miles with ridiculous busy work, such as when he assigns the actor to study how the cows feel about getting milked twice a day, as well as being killed for food. Miles does his best to put himself into the cow’s heads, getting down on his hands and knees and mooing while contemplating the milk-feed-death life cycle.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” Morgan says drily in response to Miles’s dramatic take on the situation.
The inspiration for Mr. Healey’s writing about these two elderly farmers and their surprise guest comes from personal experience. The playwright based the plot of “The Drawer Boy” on an earlier work, “The Farm Show,” created by the theatrical collective Theatre Passe Muraille, which included Jim Garrard, Paul Thompson, Miles Potter and David Fox.
In 1972, members of the collective visited the farming country of southwestern Ontario, learned the stories of the men and women who worked there, and then created “The Farm Show.” The play, which premiered in the same barn where the show had been rehearsed, was an instant success, and became a travelling show throughout Canada. Nearly two and a half decades later, Mr. Healey came into contact with many of the farmers upon which “The Farm Show” was based, as well as Mr. Potter (who was the inspiration for the character of Miles) and reworked the Canadian classic into the three-man play “The Drawer Boy.”
Without giving too much away, this complicated work takes the audience down a distinctly different path from the one they might expect. The unravelling of the story is the best part.
As always, the sets of this HTC production are outstanding. Bravo to the set design team of James Ewing and Sean Marbury, to lighting designer Sebastian Paczynski, the costume designer Teresa LeBrun and stage manager Jean Plitt.
Bottom line: A gripping and intriguing play, served well by the talents of the Hampton Theatre Company.
“The Drawer Boy” stages at the Quogue Community Hall on Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., through Sunday, April 7. There will be an added matinee at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 30. There will not be a Sunday show on March 31. Special dinner theater packages, in collaboration with the Southampton, Westhampton Beach and Hampton Bays libraries, are also being offered. For more information about the library packages, call the box office at 653-8955. To reserve show tickets, visithamptontheatre.org, or call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111.