Canadian playwright Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy was first done in South Florida in 2004 by the late, great Florida Stage. A new production of the play, this one by Thinking Cap Theatre at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage, is obviously the work of a younger, smaller company with fewer financial resources. But thanks to the work of director Nicole Stodard and the lovely performances of a three-man cast, The Drawer Boy is once again demonstrating the warmth, humor and loss contained in a compelling story.
Set 40 years ago on an Ontario farm, the play follows the awkward, intrusive, funny misadventures of a young actor named Miles (Scott Douglas Wilson) as he tries to gather material for a collectively created play about farmers.
His hosts are a pair of older bachelor farmers, one protective and wary, the other cheerful and childlike. Morgan (Jim Gibbons) runs the farm and cares for his lifelong friend Angus (Mark Kroczynski), brain damaged since a bombing in London during World War II. Angus remembers little except the particulars of daily life on the farm; each time he sees Miles, he asks the stranger’s name and why he’s in the farmhouse. For Angus, routine is a safe haven. He is the “drawer” boy, a once-promising artist-architect whose gifts and passion were erased by the war.
The hapless Miles proves disruptive and eventually dangerous to the carefully constructed reality Morgan has built for Angus. Angus is soothed by Morgan’s repeated retelling of the story about two tall English girls who became their wives after the war, though the ending of that tale is always sad. Miles, with his actor’s gift for storytelling, begins to open locked parts of Angus’ memory. And as fiction yields to truth, the farmers’ world cracks open.
Stodard has shaped her small cast into a cohesive ensemble. Gibbons is delightfully deadpan as Morgan messes with Miles, assigning him ridiculous tasks that anyone but a hopeless city slicker would see through instantly. Kroczynski is moving and energized as he takes Angus from contentment to despair and back. Wilson, dressed as an early ‘70s dork in cut-off jeans and high athletic socks, demonstrates the good heart sometimes obscured by Miles’ self-absorbed artistic process.
Set designer Chastity Collins is evocative on a tiny budget, creating a farmhouse kitchen with odd, flat cupboards. Now and then, Angus frantically opens the cupboard doors to reveal black-and-white photos from his lost past, glimpsed talismans of memory. Sound designers Stodard and David Hart supply the farm’s chirping birds and lowing cows, and lighting designer Nate Sykes takes the place from sunny daylight to star-filled night.
The Drawer Boy is a rather traditional piece by Thinking Cap’s eclectic, experimental standards. But with it, Stodard amply demonstrates one more facet of her range.