Friday, July 16, 2010
The Drawer Boy
The truth will set you free. Beautiful sentiment, but is it true? Our lives are held together with stories. Some are lies. It that bad?
Michael Healey’s "The Drawer Boy" poses these questions. It's the latest Banyan Theater Company play--basically a comedy with a few weepy, tragic elements. Carole Kleinberg directs.
The time: 1972. The place: a farm. The play's stars are what Garrison Keilor calls "bachelor farmers." They're Canadian, not Minnesotan. It's your basic "Mice and Men" arrangement. Angus (Kenneth Tigar) is brain damaged, thanks to a door that intersected with his skull in the London blitz of World War II. (He's the titular "drawer boy"--a bright architect/artist before the accident.) Now, he has basically no short term memory. Morgan (Don Morgan)takes care of him, and keeps him at peace with a bedtime story explaining the accident. And others. Then Miles(Ken Ferrigni)shows up. He's a young actor taking notes about life on the farm so he can write a play about it. Or at least a scene. Morgan obliges him -- and gigs him with various, stupid, humiliating tasks. (Washing rocks, digging corn out of cow crap, etc.)
Miles overhears Angus' bedtime story and weaves it into his play. Angus overhears, and it triggers a cascade effect in his brain. Good news: he gets a partial recovery of his short term memory. (And the inexplicable ability to quote Shakespeare.) Bad news: the false memory of Morgan's bedtime story starts unraveling. The painful, real truth is bubbling to the surface.
Kleinberg's direction is easygoing and naturalistic. She draws out the comedy without falling into sitcom territory. Ferrigni and Higgs create a nice, comic antagonism. Tigar is great in the thankless task of playing a simpleton -- a role which tends to cloyingly milk the audience for sympathy. (See "Tropic Thunder," Simple Jack.) Tigar underplays it and pulls it off.
Without spoiling the ending, the play offers a powerful look at the two-edged razor of lies, truth and storytelling. Razor image aside, it's a warm-hearted, gentle play. Don't expect a bloody, Flannery O'Conner-style epiphany. Nobody dies. There's no fight. There's no big statement.
The playwright doesn't presume to settle the question of harsh truth vs. necessary fiction. He offers his own truth: an honest, sympathetic look at decent people making hard choices.
The Drawer Boy
A Banyan Theater Company production
July 5-Aug. 1
FSU Center for the Performing Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota