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A CurtainUp Review
The Drawer B oy
Whatever the answer, it's a good thing we have it here now. This is one of the best plays I've seen off Broadway, and one of the best executed productions (by the Oberon Theatre Ensemble) to boot.
Like the play itself, Angus (played by William Laney) is deceptively simple, a middle-aged farmer living in rural Canada in the summer of 1972 with his friend Morgan (Brad Fryman). When Miles (Alex Fast), arrives at the farm to inquire if he can stay and work there, gathering research for a play he and a group of other young actors will be performing about farm life, Angus tells him he'll have to ask Morgan about it-and then promptly forgets all about it, and Miles too.
As we soon discover, Angus has very little short or long-term memory, recognizing only Morgan and some details of the farm on which he has lived for decades. However, his facility for numbers and mathematics is unmatched. Morgan explains that this and the headaches Angus periodically experiences are a result of an accident he sustained during the war.
When Miles overhears Morgan telling Angus the details of that accident — a story Angus demands be retold daily —he knows he has what he needs for the play. But when Angus and Morgan see the story in rehearsal (to the excitement of Angus and anger of Morgan), things change rapidly, building to a startling, even harrowing revelation.
Part of the reason for the effectiveness of that build in tension is the care with which playwright Michael Healey allows the story to unfold. It's almost languid in its pace with occasional moments of explosive anguish or fury that mirror Angus's character.
Angus bears more than a passing resemblance to Lennie from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men but the resemblance isn't slavish imitation. Angus doesn't have Lennie's repressed menace, nor does he have the mind of a child. Indeed, the slowly unraveling mystery of what his mind can and cannot do is one of the pleasures of the play. It's also aided by the excellent direction of Alexander Dinelaris who avoids the temptation to emphasize the easy answer as the truth of the past becomes clear. Instead he allows the relentless push of the narrative, no matter how slow, to do its work, drawing the audience in without pulling too quickly.
The production also succeeds because of the exceptional performances turned in by all three actors. Fast is convincing as an idealistic young upstart, the perfect blend of young overconfidence and quiet compassion. Laney strikes exactly the right notes in his rendering of Angus-simple without being simplistic, and sympathetic despite the frustrating nature of his disability. But Fryman may be the best of all: utterly compelling as an average man, desperate to protect his friend and his own memory no matter what the cost to the truth and his own integrity, he turns in a subtle yet tremendously powerful performance as Morgan.
Mo st of all, the play's the thing here. It's thoughtful, subtle and wise.
Overwhelmingly positive critical reviews to date have led to numerous stagings since the play's debut in 1999, and similar reactions have led to it being extended (and soon to be transferred) here. Now that I've had the chance to see it I'm happy to join the chorus of raves. Plays like this are the reason we go to the theater in the first place, and I encourage you to support work this good by going to see it yourself, as soon as you can.
Editor's Note: To read curtainup's first, also very enthusiastic, review of this play go here .