By Kay Kipling
Some viewers may find the opening scenes of Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy, now onstage at the Cook Theatre in a Banyan Theater production, a bit too slow and low-key for their tastes. But the quiet, measured pacing and atmosphere of this play are quite intentional; it’s one that involves you a little at a time, until you’re fully placed in the setting of a Central Ontario farmhouse and the lives of its residents.
The house (the kitchen and back yard of which are convincingly recreated in rustic manner by Michael Newton-Brown) is the longtime home of two slightly past middle age men, Morgan (Don Walker) and Angus (Kenneth Tigar). They’ve been getting by on the farm for more than 30 years, tied together in a relationship based on something that happened long ago, during World War II, when Angus was injured and his short-term memory was the casualty. With a steel plate in his head, no recollection of anyone but Morgan, but an amazing facility for numbers, Angus needs Morgan, who shields him from some sad truths about his condition and its effects.
Ken Ferrigni, Don Walker and Kenneth Tigar in The Drawer Boy.
Enter the plot device—oops, make that the city boy—that will shake up this arrangement. Miles (Ken Ferrigni) is an earnest if not quintessentially talented actor who wants to observe life on the farm to assemble some scenes for a play. With a typical ’70s hairstyle (the play is set in 1972) and look, he’s good for some comic relief, especially as Morgan discovers how easy it is to score off him when it comes to performing needless tasks around the property. Morgan’s manner, like much of the play itself, is undemonstrative, but no less entertaining for that.
But of course the longer Miles stays, the more curious he becomes about Angus’ past. When he overhears Morgan telling Angus a pivotal story one starlit night and ends up using it in a rehearsal of his play, Morgan is angry enough to order him off the farm. But something about seeing that story performed stirs Angus’ memory. And the tension develops: Will Angus (and we) learn the truth about what happened to him, against Morgan’s protective will?
As directed by Carole Kleinberg, the three men in the cast work smoothly and believably together (even though Walker was a replacement for another actor during the rehearsal process). Ferrigni is alternately engaging and frustrating as Miles; we’re not sure just how aware he really is of Morgan’s teasing, and that’s as it should be. Walker has the dry Canadian wit necessary for Morgan, along with the gentle, firm way of dealing with Angus that reveals how much he cares about his friend. And Tigar is always involving and plausible as the frequently childlike Angus, never overdoing any of the symptoms of his affliction and gradually letting us find our way into his head and memories.
By the time you hear another version—the real one—of that story Morgan’s been telling Angus for years, your heart should be touched enough to keep these characters in your memory for some time. The Drawer Boy continues through Aug. 1; for tickets call 552-1032 or go to banyantheatercompany.com.