By: Michael Dykstra
We’ve saved the biggest surprise for last: The Drawer Boy, the fifth and final production of our 29th thrilling season, is anything but a “typical” Actors’ play. There’s no sex, no nudity, no drugs and no violence. It’s not set in a gritty urban environment, nor does it expose the sordid underbelly of Americana. And if you can believe it, not a single F-word is uttered over the course of two acts.
No, you haven’t wandered into that other theatre around the corner. While the expression of the ideas in The Drawer Boy may be a bit more subdued than the usual Actors’ fare, the ideas themselves are every bit as challenging and thought-provoking as any others we’ve tangled with this season.
The Tale of a Not-So-Simple Life
At its heart, The Drawer Boy is about the power of art and the potential of storytelling to heal as well as harm. The play is set in 1972 on a farm in Clinton, Ontario, where two World War II vets live a quiet existence working the land. Morgan and Angus have lived together on the farm ever since their enlisted days, Morgan serving as the caretaker for the mentally scarred Angus, who suffered a brain injury in a London bomb blast. The injury also robbed Angus of his youthful talent for drawing and transformed him into a savant-like math whiz, a trait that serves as the source for a good deal of the play’s gentle humor.
The routine these two gentleman have established is interrupted when Miles, a young actor, comes to their door. He’s working on a theater project about farm life and wants to experience it first-hand. Morgan agrees to let Miles stay at the farm as long as he earns his keep. Miles displays a woeful ineptitude for farm work, but he finds comfort in the after-dinner tale Morgan tells Angus every night under the stars. It’s a story of love and loss, of two English women who had accompanied Morgan and Angus back to their farm after the war with intentions of marriage, only to be tragically killed in a car accident.
When Miles invites Morgan and Angus to a rehearsal for the play he’s written, the duo discovers that Miles has “stolen” their story. For Morgan, it’s a devastating betrayal. For Angus, it’s the key to unlocking long-buried memories that conflict with Morgan’s oft-repeated tales. Thus begins an emotional yet understated journey that reveals the true history of Morgan and Angus’ relationship.
One of America’s Most Popular Plays
The Wall Street Journal reported that The Drawer Boy was the fourth most-produced play in the United States during the years 2000 to 2010, with 36 separate productions during the decade. (This list excludes the plays of Shakespeare and seasonal productions like It’s a Wonderful Life.) However, as with all Actors’ productions, it’s never before been staged in Grand Rapids.
It’s also never been staged in New York, either on- or off-Broadway. The closest it’s come is the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, a fabled theatre that has launched many a Broadway show. (Just not this one). This production, which debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater in 2001 before moving to New Jersey, starred John Mahoney – the long-suffering father to TV’s “Frasier.” Audiences adored it. Broadway producers, not so much.
Canadian Playwright Michael Healey
Apparently, these producers didn’t check the box office receipts in Canada, where The Drawer Boy was an unqualified smash. It premiered in Toronto at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1999, and was subsequently staged at Toronto’s opulent Winter Garden Theatre before touring all the nation’s major regional theatres. The Canadian theater community awarded The Drawer Boy with the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play, a Chalmers Award and a Governor General’s Award.
The Drawer Boy was written by a Canadian, Michael Healey, who had himself ventured into the rural heartland of southern Ontario in the 1970s, interviewing local farmers and their families. Healey and a fellow group of actors use these experiences to create a “landmark Canadian theatrical event” – The Farm Show. This experience, in turn, inspired the playwright to pen The Drawer Boy as a tribute to the power of the performing arts.
This is a power Actors’ Theatre has been invoking to entertain and challenge audiences for almost three decades now. Just as Morgan and Angus are forever changed by viewing the play within a play in The Drawer Boy, we hope that every Actors’ production moves you to examine and refine your view of the world.
Performances for The Drawer Boy:
May 13 – May 15, 8PM
May 20 – May 22, 8PM
Tickets range from $22.00 for adults to $8.00 for student rush tickets an hour prior to performances. For Thursday performances, a second ticket is $10.00 with the purchase of the first ticket at full price. The box office number to reserve tickets is (616) 234-3946.