Past, present collide in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's 'Drawer Boy'
The "Drawer" in the title of Canadian playwright Michael Healey's "The Drawer Boy" is meant to represent someone who does illustrations or draws; it has nothing to do with furniture.
In a current production by Buffalo Theatre Ensemble at College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn, "The Drawer Boy" shows once again why it had become such a popular regional drama throughout the first decade of the 2000s. When the play first burst onto the scene, "The Drawer Boy" was famously championed by Tony Award-winner John Mahoney ("Frasier"), who performed it not only at his Chicago home base of Steppenwolf Theatre in 2001, but also at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 2002 and at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse in 2005.
"The Drawer Boy"★ ★ ½
Location: Buffalo Theatre Ensemble at College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Centre, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn. (630) 942-4000, atthemac.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; through July 29
Parking: Free adjacent lot
Rating: Some profanity and adult themes
For Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, "The Drawer Boy" serves as a pleasant dramatic cap to its 25th anniversary season. Director Kurt Naebig oversees a production that is handsomely designed and staged, if not fully plumbed in terms of its potential emotional depths.
The plot concerns a hopelessly naive Toronto actor named Miles (Jacob Abbas) who seeks work experience on an Ontario farm in 1972. He wants to glean material for a new play created by his theater collective ("The Farm Show" actually was a real creation of Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille in the 1970s).
The farm Miles chooses is run by two lifelong friends and World War II veterans named Morgan (Jonathan Kraft) and Angus (Robert Jordan Bailey). Morgan takes on most of the responsibilities, since Angus sustained a war injury that has left him with memory issues. Angus can do sums with amazing speed, but he forgets recent things with such rapidity that Miles is constantly forced to remind Angus who he is.
At first, much of the humor arises from Angus' forgetfulness and Miles' total idiocy when it comes to farming. His dumb questions about milking the cows and how they "feel" are particular groaners.
But things take a dramatic turn once Miles accidentally eavesdrops upon what appears to be the tragic reason why Morgan and Angus have been bound together in the years since the war. When Miles surreptitiously uses that material for the play, Angus and Morgan's partnership starts to fray and Angus' memory is jogged by secrets that are not part of Morgan's oft-told story.
The most convincing performance in Buffalo Theatre's "Drawer Boy" comes from Jonathan Kraft, who is appropriately gruff and the most rough-hewed in his appearance and demeanor as a weathered farmer. Jacob Abbas gets good laughs in the rube-reversal role of Miles, but I would have liked to see more of his character's emotional implications once he realizes how much he comes to potentially ruin Angus and Morgan's safe and unquestioned existence.
As Angus, Robert Jordan Bailey is clearly doing what he's supposed to do acting-wise, but doesn't quite convince. Bailey comes across as too clean cut to be a salt-of-the-earth farm hand, and he's not fully in the moment of his mentally challenged character. Bailey could also ratchet up Angus' despair and confusion as he comes to terms with memories that don't align with Morgan's pat recitations.
So even if the emotional honesty necessary for "The Drawer Boy" isn't fully there, Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production is strong and sturdy. Michael W. Moon's farmhouse set with looming, hovering doors is both functional and symbol-laden, while Allison R. Amidei does a great job with the show's makeup requirements (particularly with the mostly humorous wounds).
By the end of "The Drawer Boy," we come to see how twisting the truth can sometimes be helpful in coping with guilt and other tragedies. Or at the very least not to assume things are what they initially appear to be -- including the pronunciation of the play's title.
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