Directed by Alexander Dinelaris
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
On Tuesday May 14, the SoHo Playhouse hosted a talkback following the performance of the critically acclaimed “The Drawer Boy” by Michael Healey. The topic of the talkback was “The Making and Fate of Off-Broadway.” Ironically, just two days following the talkback on May 16, The SoHo Playhouse and Artistic Director Darren Lee Cole announced the premature closing of “Drawer Boy” for Sunday May 19. I saw this extraordinary play on Saturday May 18, the day before it closed. Surprisingly, the super-charged performances belied no lack of energy or spirit on the part of the three outstanding actors, all who gave bravura performances. Haunted by the power of the play, I continue to be equally haunted by the power economic factors can have on the success of Off-Broadway theatre.
Playwright Michael Healey creates dynamic images in “The Drawer Boy” and it is tempting to connect those images to other texts about significant relationship between unlikely friends (and family): protagonists/antagonists Joe and “Ratso,” George and Lenny, Raymond and Charlie Babbitt easily come to mind when watching Morgan (Brad Fryman) and Angus (William Laney) toddle about their kitchen and farm. Like all of these fictional pairs, they are both completely alone without each other, and a genuine bond has developed between these two men.
However, “The Drawer Boy” is about so much more than relationships: this play is about the power of the spoken work and the power of the theatre. Morgan and Angus have been working their farm in rural Ontario together for years. Lifetime friends, they served in the war together where Angus was wounded by shrapnel, leaving him with memory and functional challenges which keep him somewhat childlike and vulnerable. Over the years, Morgan has constructed a story to protect his friend from the truth of what really happened after Angus was struck by the shrapnel. Angus struggles to remember the story and longs to hear his friend re-tell it over and over.
This entire obfuscation works until Miles (Alex Fast) comes from Toronto to visit the men hoping to find the realism he needs to construct a script about life on a farm. Miles is the catalyst for change in this well-balanced relationship which thrives on a seemingly benign dose of deception. After overhearing Morgan tell Angus “the story,” Miles later recreates the scene for Angus playing the “role” of Morgan. Morgan overhears this reenactment and threatens to evict Miles from their home unless he agrees not to interfere. Morgan has worked too long and too hard to have his family system disrupted by the truth.
Undaunted, Miles continues to engage Angus by his reenactment of scenes from “Hamlet” and, with every “performance,” Angus begins to reconnect with his past and discover what really happened after his injury. It is the power of theatre that revives Angus and gives him the chance for a life without fear and dependence/co-dependence. Life imitates art and art imitates life here and the words that tumble from Miles’ mouth gently fall on Angus’ memory with the rich rain of the renewal of spirit. Angus was the boy who drew and becomes the man who draws strength from the truth about his past.
Under Alexander Dinelaris’ well-paced direction, Alex Fast, Brad Fryman, and William Laney deliver spellbinding performances that generously allow Mr. Healey’s script to unfold naturally and powerfully to its conclusion. Storytelling can be healing and storytelling can imprison the soul – it all depends on the motivation of the storyteller. Healing theatre, like “The Drawer Boy,” ought to have had a long life at the SoHo Playhouse. Its truth has the power to set audiences members free.