No matter where you live, or what you do, everybody has a story.
With that truism in mind, an eager Toronto actor arrives on the doorstep of two aging, bachelor farmers in Ignition Theatre’s highly entertaining production of The Drawer Boy, by Michael Healey.
The actor, Miles, tells the southern Ontario farmers, Angus and Morgan, that he wants to stay with them to experience rural life. The fictional plot of this award-winning play was based on a real experiment: In 1972, a group of Toronto actors scattered into the countryside to research rural experiences. These were turned into The Farm Show.
What Miles doesn’t reveal to Angus or Morgan in any detail is his goal. He wants to turn their real-life anecdotes into a collectively written piece of theatre that will eventually be performed for the public.
Perhaps Miles is too callow and gung-ho to have really thought through the ramifications of what this invasion of privacy could mean. Angus is a brain injured man with no long-term memory, and Morgan has spent his life trying to manage and protect his friend.
What Miles does by barging ahead with his determined nosiness, is to spill a long-held secret that has stitched together both farmers’ lives.
Through his stint in the country, the actor eventually learns that some realities are altered to conceal pain, guilt and blame. And some memories need to remain private.
This deceptively simple play that opened Thursday at The Matchbox goes from being a broad comedy (Miles asks such bone-headed questions as how does a milk cow feel about being “interfered” with daily), to being an absorbing drama.
The second half completely sucks audience members into distressing war-time recollections that surface, forcing both farmers and Miles to reassess their lives.
Ignition theatre director Matt Grue does a great job of slowly transitioning the uproarious first act into an affecting second act. He also wrings appropriate emotions from the script through good pacing and casting decisions.
Joel Crichton, whom Ignition audiences will know from Tick, Tick . . .Boom! and Bohemian Rhapsody, turns a character who could be unlikable for his prying ways and big-city pretensions, into someone relatable.
Most novelists, documentarians, playwrights and journalists have moments of self-doubt in which they question how far stories are taken, and whether adequate boundaries are drawn to separate personal revelations from exploitation.
Sometimes they only learn from getting it wrong.
Paul Boultbee’s Angus can only live in the moment, but has an astonishing capacity for calculating numbers. For this reason, the long-time community actor could have created another Rain Man-like character with parroted mannerisms. But Boultbee largely manages to keep theatricality out of his performance.
His Angus is vulnerable and heart-tugging in his confusion, the way an Alzheimer’s sufferer might be. And, because of this, the audience cares when Angus wanders away from his farm house into the leaf-strewn yard, which was effectively created on The Matchbox stage.
The play’s other big revelation — besides the plot secret — is John Treleaven, as Morgan.
Treleaven, who is familiar to Central Alberta Theatre audiences, creates a fully dimensional character who uses anger and bluster to hide a tender, caring soul. There are no false moments in Treleaven’s performance as the gruff, stubborn farmer, who made a difficult decision three decades ago that he has faithfully stuck to all these years.
What Morgan did, he did for love and friendship.
He should have considered that, while secrets have their uses, only the truth can set one free.