By Michael Healey. Directed by Alan Brodie. An Ensemble Theatre Company production. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Friday, July 12. Continues until August 14
“What’s it like, being around death and rebirth all the time?” A simple question, asked of someone who raises livestock for a living, takes on metaphorical weight in Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy, a play about personal history where trauma is transformed in unexpected ways. In a play that explores the ethics of exploitation and expropriation, one man's search for authenticity uncovers a truth that uproots a pastoral façade.
On an Ontario farm in the ’70s, budding actor Miles (Chris Lam) arrives unannounced on the doorstep of Angus (James Gill) and Morgan (Darcey Johnson), a pair of middle-aged bachelors leading a simple, rural existence. Looking to inject a dose of reality into a devised play on farming, Miles volunteers to help on their land, gaining firsthand insight into the realities of their operation. Quickly, he discovers that Angus has amnesia and Morgan is reticent about its cause. Late one night, he overhears a story about the men’s past, explaining how a wartime brain injury robbed Angus of his ability to make intricate drawings. Sneaking it into his play, Miles incenses Morgan, and secrets soon shatter the status quo.
A tale about recollection, Healey’s play is a meditation on order and chaos, and the death and rebirth of stories forms the specific backbone that moulds philosophy into something emotional.
Miles has intruded on the farm’s order to seek an authentic encounter, a “chaos” unrepresented on-stage. Yet this gritty truth is rejected by his theatre troupe, in the same way cost-conscious shoppers have refused farming’s hard economics. Both revelations foreshadow Morgan’s bandaging of the men’s past, by reimagining trauma through a lens of disorder. In recalling lost romances and life-changing incidents, Morgan has embraced a chaotic fiction that absolves him of personal responsibility for bleak outcomes, depriving Angus of an order that was once present. In later accepting Miles’s determination to take fault for his flaws, Morgan remedies his own by committing finally to the truth.
Director Alan Brodie crafts an intimate experience through the use of thrust seating, where audience members surround a spartan kitchen backdrop.
Set and costume designer Alaia Hamer furnishes the space with wood accents and rustic elements, with period appliances and a working sink. Atmospheric moods pass through Sara Smith’s lighting design, placing action in the auburn of dawn and dusk’s indigo.
Sound designer Michael Chambers fills the room with bucolic calls of nature, and a dulcet guitar colours scene transitions.
A farmhouse springs to life with these stage minutiae, where a powerful trio of performances comes courtesy of Gill, Johnson, and Lam. Clad in outsized denim overalls, Gill plays a soft giant with a veiled perceptiveness; Johnson, as a protective figure, has a forceful import of secrecy, while Lam’s versatility dually suits a youthfulness and guileless comic timing.
Catalyzed by change, the characters of The Drawer Boy examine the proprietorship of knowledge, and vastly different ethical considerations can dictate its disclosure. When real and imagined narratives result in order or chaos, difficult choices must be made.