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Review: "The Drawer Boy" at Actors' Theatre

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Actors' Theatre's production of "The Drawer Boy"

This melodrama is a "three-hander" — just three characters — in which decades-old secrets get revealed, a main character has a disability, and a naïve young actor learns lessons. The actors, G.M. Thompson, Greg Rogers and Dylan Harris try hard, but in all it’s a sugar sandwich.

The script has an interesting history. In the early 1970s, playwright Michael Healey and a group of actors interviewed farmers in rural Canada for a devised play called "The Farm Show." It’s gone on to be one of the most successful regional plays in Canada. “The Drawer Boy,” the play Healey wrote in 1999 about the experience, has become a darling of our country's midwestern theater as well.

What killed this production was the pace. The long dark between scenes, when stunt loaves of bread were brought on and off-stage, drained whatever momentum the show had going. The script wasn’t doing the production any favors--whole scenes were occupied with bucolic routine and giant dumps of backstory. The show ran for nearly two and a half hours—an hour could have been trimmed out, and it's an easy fix.

Harris, as the kid, has the fun role, unknowingly forced into absurd tasks by the farmers as a joke, though his performance edged into mugging at times. Rogers has the harder role of the brain-damaged older farmer and he nobly makes his way through a limited part. Thompson, playing caretaker of his damaged friend, had a curmudgeonly toughness that worked well for the first 45 minutes. As the play’s emotional range widened, Thompson’s performance remained rigid, which made the discoveries of the later half of the play, all of which hinge on him, inert and oddly dead on arrival.

In the opening moments, the young actor (Harris) approaches the farm house and mimes knocking on the screen door. When the farmer answers, he sticks his head out as though there were no door. It sounds minor, but it’s a failure of the reality of the play. I will say the realistic set, however, was well crafted. It’s no reason to see a show, but I found myself drifting from the drama and studying the carefully placed, spot-on spoon jar.

The first performances of "The Drawer Boy" were held May 13-15. More performances will be held at 8 p.m. May 20-22. For more information, visit the Actors' Theatre box office at

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