The Drawer Boy
Strong performances make a play about memory hard to forget
New Yorkers were atwitter last December when Barrow Street Theatre performed Our Town and the theater smelled like bacon in the final act. The Vagabond Players production of The Drawer Boy doesn't include the crackling pop of bacon or the smell of baking bread (a frequent action in the play), but smell is just as important here due to the inclusion of one sickly sweet, mildly nauseating, very fresh hay bale that uncannily embodies the play's joy and slight disquiet. Poised at the edge of the stage and accompanied by a near-perfect '40s country kitchen, the audience is uncomfortably close to the 1972 Canadian farm where Boy takes place.
The farm is owned by Angus (David Gamble) and Morgan (Tony Colavito), where Morgan does the bulk of the backbreaking, hand-slicing farm work, leaving lifelong best friend Angus to bake bread, sometimes drive the tractor, and take daily afternoon naps. Because Angus is brain damaged, Morgan also acts as caretaker, managing his best friend's memories, emotions, and sleep schedule, and endures the daunting task of re-telling the heartbreaking story of their shared past. Still, things are just fine for the two until Miles (Gregory Beck Jericho) visits under the pretense of studying farm life for a collaborative stage project with other young pretentious actors in town.
Director Michael B. Zemarel's pacing is masterful. In a play where the unfolding events and the farmers' emotional pain would otherwise drag, Zemarel wastes no time but also steers clear of shoving the plot down your throat. As a result there is a desperate need to know more by the end of the first act, but without an uneasy suspense.
The audience quickly becomes attached to Gamble's Angus as he suffers a Memento-like existence, remembering only fragments of the distant past—his childhood with Morgan is recalled but not the love of his life or a promising career in architecture—and never more immediate moments. He meets newcomer Miles over and over again.
Colavito and Jericho shine here, creating likeable characters that could easily irritate, and intimidate in other hands. Miles could come across simply as cruel, but Jericho shows that the character is naive and genuine in his enthusiasm and curiosity. Colavito makes Morgan a complex and fully realized character with just a few gestures and a steely gaze. The relationships between these three men and the pain they inflict upon each other sticks with you long after you've left the theater. Hopefully, you'll leave that hay bale scent behind.
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