From Swords to Plowshares 

Rep delivers sensitive, engaging drama about veterans turned farmers

Rep delivers sensitive, engaging drama about veterans turned farmers

Canadian playwright Michael Healey's The Drawer Boy is set in the 1970s on a farm in Ontario, where two middle-aged bachelors, Morgan and Angus, live and work quietly. Morgan does practically all of the chores, and Angus...well, Angus isn't capable of contributing much beyond slicing bread, making sandwiches and counting the stars in the night sky, something that he does with uncanny precision. Both men are World War II vets, and we learn that Angus suffered a head injury during a German bombing raid, which explains his memory loss and his difficulty in paying attention to almost everything.

Into their lives comes Miles, a young actor who seeks to learn about farm routines for a college theatrical project that will culminate in the performance of dramatic scenes drawn from rural experience. Angus and Morgan begrudgingly take him in, and over the course of a week or so, Miles assists Morgan in the fields and barnyard in exchange for lodgings and food, assiduously taking notes along the way.

This very simple setup takes on new dimensions when Miles' inquiries into the men's lives begin to stir up Angus' long-lost memories of war and love. Angus starts to click into his past, and Morgan is compelled to reveal some painful truths about their relationship and key bygone incidents.

Winner of several Dora Awards (Canada's version of the Tony), The Drawer Boy is loosely based on true-to-life events revolving around a 1972 collective Toronto theater project that eventually resulted in a popular play and subsequent Canadian television program called The Farm Show. Healey's script, full of down-home wit and laid-back charm, serves up likable and distinctive characters that enfold a touching tale of loss and friendship.

Tennessee Repertory Theatre's staging of the play—the final entry in the company's Off-Broadway Series—offers a deft bit of collaboration, with incoming artistic director David Alford at the helm, guiding a cast that includes outgoing AD David Grapes, top-notch veteran actor Henry Haggard and relative newcomer Pete Vann. All three performers thrive under Alford's tight, attentive direction, in particular Grapes, whose folksy, comic presence is a natural match for the role of Angus. Haggard delivers typically strong work as Morgan, and Vann, a recent participant in Mockingbird Theatre's Apprentice Program, fits in nicely as earnest thespian Miles.

Julia Meador supplies the quaint farmhouse setting. Though there's no flash or fury, the production succeeds on the strength of its sincerely rendered yet engaging story and the cast's heartfelt characterizations.

The Drawer Boy continues through April 4 at TPAC's Johnson Theater.

—Martin Brady

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