Vocal yokels

“The Drawer Boy” charts the conflicts of memory and storytelling.

by Greg Corradini

A rural silence pervades the opening 10 minutes of “The Drawer Boy,” now onstage at the Jungle Theatre.

Birds chirp, a lawnmower drones in the background and Angus, the dimwitted farmer, sits slumped in a chair facing the audience like an awe-struck child.

He wears a shabby, collared shirt and baggy blue jeans. Surrounded by faded wallpaper, blanched kitchen paint and creaking wood floors, a breadbox rests on top of the fridge. Angus prepares a sandwich slathered with homemade jelly and peanut butter. Provincial farm life, it seems, is one of simplicity and freshly baked bread.

The decision to begin “Drawer Boy” with this bucolic naturalism unnerves the audience.

They sit dumbfounded, expecting the play to be flagged by a clear beginning, a recognizable passage into another world, instead of this portrait of tedium.

But director Casey Stangl is using these images to remind the audience that they cannot subtract reality from what they are about to witness onstage. The opening scene is merely a prelude to the battle that memory, the real world and fiction wage in “Drawer Boy.”

Into this setting strolls Miles Potter (Tony Clarno) an unassuming hipster in bellbottoms, sporting a thick caterpillar-like mustache beneath his nose.

Miles is an actor in a theater collective and wants to live with Angus (Kurt Schweickhardt) and his lifelong friend Morgan (Wayne Evenson) on their Ontario farm.

While the farmers work, Miles will assiduously take notes and record their every action so that he can write a play about Morgan and Angus’ farm life.

Miles’ arrival is an intrusion in the peaceful world the farmers have come to know. His ambition remains fixed on the characters and compelling stories that he will wrestle from this experience and fails to see the ties that bind the two friends.

In need of Morgan’s constant care, Angus can’t piece together any sort of story, much less the memories that lay scattered like jigsaw puzzle pieces in his mind.

He smells bread baking when there isn’t any and in the morning’s wee hours, stumbles into the kitchen searching for something that he can never seem to find. The only “real story” that Angus knows is a mythical yarn Morgan has been telling him for years about their time together in the war before the accident. And even his recollection of those events is slippery.

While Morgan and Angus’ farm life is fertile soil for Miles’ fiction, “Drawer Boy” proves to be an organic ground for hearty acting.

Wayne Evenson sidles around as Morgan wheezes and sighs like one of his heifers. And when he does catch enough breath, the audience can be sure he is going to impart his parched wisdom on Miles in a highfalutin, nasally drawl.

“We get nothing for what we do. An egg costs 9 cents in the store, there’s practically an armed uprising in the city over how expensive an egg is. Know how much it costs me to produce that egg? 9.13 cents,” Morgan tells Miles.

It’s Evenson’s portrayal of Morgan’s psychological dimension that carries the audience’s attention through the play.

Morgan is the archetypal stubborn farmer who prides himself on his devotion, land and sober work ethic. Evenson is able to slowly draw out the subtle tones of the blubbering, frightened, childish core that the audience already knew had to exist in this manly shell.

The disparity between Miles’ play about the farmers and Morgan’s story brings the action in “Drawer Boy” to a head.

It is only after Angus views Miles’ play that his partial amnesia goes into remission, allowing him to recall many things from his past.

But as the floodgates of memory open for Angus and the true nature of his past is revealed the question remains: Is remembering the past a burden or a virtue?