Passe Muraille has been pushing its remount of the hugely popular Michael Healey hit The Drawer Boy with considerable fanfare, including leaving giant, inflatable barnyard animals outside the theatre for a few days last week. And why not? It’s the most successful play to ever come out of that theatre this side of The Drowsy Chaperone, which has definitely grown a bit too gigantic for a return trip. But The Drawer Boy, with its Farm Show-inspired plot and its allusions to Rochdale College, remains a perfect fit at Passe Muraille, even if its last major appearance in Toronto was at the considerably swankier Elgin. It could be just the hit the place needs.
For those not in the loop, The Drawer Boy tells the story of Miles, Morgan and Angus. Miles is a young Toronto actor in the collective that created The Farm Show, and he goes out to Clinton, Ontario to stay with a couple of farmers to learn about life on the farm. Those farmers are Morgan and Angus. Morgan at first appears to be the brains of the situation, running the day-to-day handling of the farm, while Angus is somewhat slow. Morgan explains to Miles that although Angus was once a talented architect, due to a head injury he acquired during the blitz in London, he no longer has the ability to make new memories. To comfort him, Morgan regularly tells Angus the story of their lives, explaining how the famer boy (Morgan) and the drawer boy (Angus) became friends, went to war, met the girls of their dreams and eventually lost them after Angus’ injury. Miles thinks the story might be the perfect thing to bring to his collective, but how much of it is true?
Ruth Madoc-Jones has directed an entirely solid, if more or less traditional, production of the play. At the same time, who’s really interested in a radical re-imagining of The Drawer Boy? She makes a bit of a break from tradition in casting Randy Hughson and John Jarvis in the roles of Angus and Morgan (respectively), two men significantly younger than the roles are often played. It’s an interesting choice, as the moments of physical conflict have greater urgency when the men and younger and more powerful. Frank Cox-O’Connell is completely adorable as Miles—savvy in the city, but totally naïve about country living.
If you’ve never seen it before, this is a strong production of a play that has earned its spot in our national canon with its humour, insight and truth at a theatre that could probably use your support. The show runs until November 18.