Highly Recommended ***** Redtwist Theatre, which has staged some of the most beautiful productions of the American Canon I have ever seen, is working on what may be a new classic: Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy. It is the story of a young, struggling Canadian actor and playwright, Miles (Aaron Kirby), who shows up on a farm to do ethnographic work on rural life for his company’s script, and says he wants to stay and observe so he offers to do chores in exchange for room and board. He works hard for the two men who own the farm: the dark and sardonic Morgan (Adam Bitterman) and amnesiac Angus (Brian Parry), who is a savant when it comes to numbers but can’t remember anything from one moment to the next because of a post-war injury.
During the first half of the play, the action is largely humorous. It isn’t clear whether the stories Morgan tells Miles about farming are true (they don’t impress Miles’ acting troupe). As for the chores, Miles makes a mess of the important ones (and by that I mean causes severe bodily harm) and is given more menial tasks, but it is never clear whether some of the most extreme and demeaning chores assigned are hazing and punishment or just disgusting and tedious things that really need to be done on the farm (it’s not like Angus cans serve as a source of secondary attestation).
Initially, I wasn’t able to understand why the two farmers were living together: are they lovers, brothers, or had they just invested in a farm together, but it becomes clear over the course of the play as various truths unfold, the themes become more serious, and characters are put in very real danger. When Miles hears a story that Morgan repeatedly tells Angus in order to comfort him, and writes a play about it, he inadvertently causes the latter to regain his memory which, for some mysterious reason, angers Morgan. Eventually, questions are posed about memory and stories, plays and fiction, and their function both in art and life.
If the script weren’t compelling enough, the productions values are additionally superb. Director Scott Weinstein skillfully balances realism and artistry in the play’s blocking, and brings out incredibly difficult transitions and changes in his actor’s performances. While the amazingly talented Brian Parry struggles slightly in the early humorous parts, he is able to handle them perfectly once he is allowed to pair them with his terrific acting chops in conveying profound emotions. In this case: wistfulness, hope, and sorrow. Adam Bitterman’s perfectly maintains a slightly gruff, dead seriousness throughout the play, even when it is clear that he is saying to startle, humiliate, and scare Miles and when he cares for and comforts Angus.
It took me a while to appreciate the technical aspects of the play, but after a while I realized what an important role they were playing in drawing out appropriate emotional responses from the audience. The Set Design (Eric Luchen) is a detailed rural interior and is conventional but convincing as a remote farm along with the props. (Josh Hurley) The Lighting Design goes for mood and meaning over ambience, but is convincing, well-executed, and perfectly coordinated to the changing moods. It is also the sole device used to effectively to produce an exterior setting when needed. The story and quality of the production can take hours or even days to set in, but once it does both become absolutely haunting and you realize that Redtwist Theatre has once again made a highly substantial mark on Chicago’s current theatrical scene.
“The Drawer Boy” plays Thursdays through Sundays at Redtwist, located at 1044 W Bryn Mawr, 2 blks W of LSD, 2 blks E of the Red Line EL station. The play runs through February 28th, 2016. Productions are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm. Regular Tickets are $35. Student and Senior Tickets are $30. To purchase call 773-728-7529 or visit www.redtwist.org. Valet parking for Redtwist is available across the street in front of Francesca’s Bryn Mawr for most performances—hours vary. Dining is not required. Limited FREE street parking is available on side streets. There is metered street parking via ParkChicago.com app or 3-hour Paybox on Bryn Mawr Av and 2-hour Paybox on side streets. Free on Sundays
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Drawer Boy”