Port City Playhouse draws from real life struggles

By Jordan Wright

Michael Healey’s “The Drawer Boy” as performed by Port City Playhouse is — by turns — a darkly funny and deeply poignant piece of theater that examines the bonds of friendship and the deeds that define altruism.

It opens in the summer of 1972 in rural Ontario, Canada, where aspiring playwright Miles (Daniel G. Westbrook) arrives at the door of a rundown farmhouse offering to lend a hand in exchange for a glimpse of farm life. His aim: finding material for his drama class at a nearby college.

What follows is a tightly crafted story of two men bound together by tragedy and loss, and another whose observations and willingness to listen afford a kind of healing process. The poignant tale is reminiscent of “Rain Man” as well as George and Lennie’s relationship in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

Morgan (Elliott Bales) and Angus (P. Spencer Tamney) were boyhood friends who served together in London during World War II. Wounded during a bombing raid, Angus lost the ability to remember anything for more than a short time.

“All he knows is right now,” Morgan tells Miles, though Angus’ mathematical calculations are as skillful as a savant. Still, Morgan strives to keep day-to-day life unchallenging to avoid provoking Angus’ migraine-inducing memories.

With his notebook at the ready, Miles records the pair’s every word — searching for insights along with farming wisdom. Angus is eager to recount what little he remembers of his life before the explosion, but Morgan, who discusses the price of eggs with the same intensity as he pulls the wool over Miles’ eyes, tries to keep the dramatist at arm’s length, telling him to rise at 3 a.m. to rotate the crops from one field to another.

“You break it up into pieces no bigger than you,” he teases the visiting rube, while instructing him to pick corn kernels out of cow puddles with a serving fork.

It is only when Miles begins to extract Angus’ long-hidden emotions that the pair’s painful story is revealed and the tragedy of their lives unfolds.

Healey’s drama comes out of a true story of a group of actors who, in the 1970s, visited the Canadian heartland, interviewing farmers and their families. Revisiting their subjects nearly 25 years later inspired Healey to write “The Drawer Boy” as a tribute.

Jennifer Lyman directs this unforgettable play, which is produced by Carol Strachan and Alan Wray. It’s the perfect cast and piece for Port City Playhouse’s series of thought-provoking, socially relevant theater.

“The Drawer Boy” runs through Saturday at The Lab at Convergence, 1819 N. Quaker Lane. For tickets and information, visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.

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