‘FARM’ MEN: Joseph Parks, Will Marchetti and Robert Ernst.
Memory and truth collide in magical ‘Drawer Boy’
Hector Correa is the Barry Bonds of the North Bay theater world. Since signing on last spring as the new artistic director of Rohnert Park’s celebrated Pacific Alliance Stage Company, Correa has miraculously managed to produce one home run after another. Correa inherited last year’s lineup mid-season but has personally selected the new season’s five plays (The Drawer Boy, The Female Odd Couple,A Streetcar Named Desire, A Perfect Ganesh and Oh, Kay!). Statistics would indicate that sooner of later Correa is destined to toss us a show that doesn’t completely hang together. But if Correa’s season opening production of Michael Healey’s Drawer Boy is any indication, his winning streak is in no danger of losing steam.
Based on an obscure footnote in the history of Canadian arts, The Drawer Boy was partly inspired by a unique grassroots theater project. Back in the early 1970s, a group of young actors spent several weeks living among the farm communities of Southern Ontario, collecting firsthand material about the lives of Canadian farmers. The resulting production, sponsored by Toronto’s Theater Passe Muraille, was called The Farm Show and was a gritty blend of farm facts and politics.
In The Drawer Boy, a three-person comedy-drama first performed in Toronto in 1999, an earnest but not too savvy actor named Miles (Joseph Parks) talks himself onto the farm of aging bachelors Angus (Will Marchetti) and Morgan (Robert Ernst) as part of The Farm Show experiment. Morgan, crusty and guarded, but not without a certain sense of humor, agrees to let Miles stay in exchange for the young man’s help around the farm. That “help” consists mainly of performing absurd chores: scrubbing rocks with a brush, rotating the eggs from one hen to the next so as to protect each chicken and egg from becoming too attached. Miles is not sure how much to believe, though the city-bred actor does buy Morgan’s story about low-producing dairy cows living under constant stress from their knowing that the least productive of their number is the next to be slaughtered.
What Miles most wants to know is how Angus came to suffer from short-term memory loss. Mild-mannered but easily spooked, Angus is happy enough, making sandwiches, baking bread and counting stars, but forgets nearly everything he is told and has to be reintroduced to Miles every few minutes. Miles soon becomes suspicious of Morgan’s unwillingness to discuss the situation beyond cryptically insisting that a WW II injury, a blow to the head following an explosion, caused Angus’ affliction.
When Miles eventually learns the truth–or at least, what he believes is the truth, something to do with a boy who draws pictures (the titular “drawer boy”)–that story becomes part of Miles’ enactment for The Farm Show, performed for the two men. Unexpected consequences result for the two bachelor farmers, who each react differently to a performance of the finished show. Is it the magic of live theater or the power of long-dormant memories that begins to wake Angus out of his sleepwalking state? Whatever it is, Morgan prefers things the way they’ve been, and Miles, clearly unprepared for the response his meddling receives, must now try to undo the damage his “art” has created.
Alternately funny, tense and gently moving, this is a fine, carefully crafted play, performed here with an ingeniously designed set in Spreckels’ small Bettie Condiotti Theater. The acting is superb and is in itself a reason to go see the show. Parks perfectly captures the clueless bravado and self-important sweetness of Miles’ youthful activism. Ernst, as the hardened, guilt-ridden Morgan, gives a performance so good, so clear and so real, that you’d swear Correa had found someone who’d been working on a farm for the last 30 years and put that guy in the play. As Angus, Marchetti is amazing, simultaneously revealing gentleness, sadness, pent-up frustration, intelligence and simplicity, effectively showing several layers of wounded humanity at once. When Angus’ inevitable awakening occurs, it is as thrilling as it is heartbreaking, words that also describe The Drawer Boy, a truly remarkable, not-to-be-missed production.
‘The Drawer Boy’ runs Thursday-Sunday through Oct. 17. Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Thursday at 7:30pm; Friday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2:30pm. $15-$20 (lowest rate, Thursday only). 707.588.3434.
From the September 29-October 5, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.