Theatre R.F.D.                             by Thomas Canfield     In The Drawer Boy, playwright            bachelor farmer...
brainchild of pioneering director       evolved into an alternative theatri-            unexpected, and the production    ...
As the characters in The               Miles offers to help out with    holds up a mirror to the two and             threa...
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Program Essay for The Drawer Boy


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Program Essay for The Drawer Boy

  1. 1. Theatre R.F.D. by Thomas Canfield In The Drawer Boy, playwright bachelor farmers in their mid-Michael Healey weaves a poignant fifties, he unleashes a chain ofdrama about the terrible price of events that eventually culminateswar, the palliative art of story- in life-altering transformations fortelling and the therapeutic power of all three men. Although their storytheatre. Set against the rural canvas is not based on actual events fromof an isolated Ontario farm in the archives of history, Healey1972, the play also chronicles a drew inspiration for The Drawerlandmark experiment in Canadian Boy from a watershed theatricaltheatre history and its dynamic experiment that culminated in Theimpact on performers and Farm Show, a 1972 documentaryaudiences. play. When Miles, a young actor This legendary event in Cana-from Toronto, interrupts the lonely dian theatre history, considered tolives of Morgan and Angus, two be an artistic milestone, was the The original cast of the 1972 production of The Farm Show: (L-R) Paul Thompson, David Fox, Anne Anglin, Fina MacDonnell, Miles Potter, Al Jones and Janet Amos. Photo credit: The Farm Show, The Coach House Press, 1976. 35
  2. 2. brainchild of pioneering director evolved into an alternative theatri- unexpected, and the production premise for The Drawer Boy, Paul Thompson. Thompson co- cal production that was dedicated proved highly successful. which was his first full-length play. founded the Théâtre Passe Muraille to the farmers they encountered. After Ted Johns, a writer with In 1999, Healey’s play premiered (“Theatre Without Walls”) in Much of the script came directly the Théâtre Passe Muraille, tran- at the Théâtre Passe Muraille, the Toronto with Jim Garrard in 1968. from actual conversation. The final scribed the script, The Farm Show same theatre where, 27 years ear- An example of “collective cre- result, first presented to locals in took to the road and toured lier, The Farm Show had its ation,” The Farm Show was an Ray Bird’s cattle-auction barn in Canada. It first played in the city of Toronto debut. Miles Potter, an innovative, grassroots project that Clinton, had no lights, costumes or Toronto, then at cattle markets, original cast member and co-cre- began as an informal outgrowth of set, and hay bales provided seating. auction barns and community halls ator of The Farm Show (whom Rochdale College, a counter-cul- Actors played roles as farmers, ani- in southwestern Ontario, and sub- Healey used as inspiration for the tural community in Toronto. mals, and even agricultural sequently in the provinces of fictional character of Miles), Often aligned with the people’s machinery. The delight that audi- Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The directed the production. Angus was theatre movement, collective cre- ences had in hearing and observing revolutionary project also inspired played by David Fox, another cast ation is a form of documentary or their own language and culture was a CBS television documentary pro- member and co-creator of the orig- ethnographic theatre. Artists enter duced by prize-winning Canadian inal production. a community, research a theme and novelist and poet Michael invent works that speak to and Ondaatje. The Clinton Special: A about the specific group on which Film About the Farm Show (1974) they are based. Through improvisa- documents the project’s impact on tion, both the content and the struc- local audiences, who were spell- ture of a play are developed. Col- bound. When interviewed, many lective creation attempts to engage recalled the production as a high audience members by sparking a point in their theatrical experience. dialogue on current events. Often, In the summer of 1995, Healey the results are socially conscious or worked as an actor with the Blyth politically oriented. During his Festival, located just north of Clin- tenure as artistic director of the ton. Founded in 1975, the festival Passe Muraille from 1971-82, produces theatre that reflects the Thompson supervised more than culture and concerns of the people 30 collective creation projects. of southwestern Ontario. There, To formulate the unique the- Healey encountered many of the Tom Barnett (left) as Miles and David Fox as atrical experience of The Farm original farmers and community Angus in the original Théâtre Passe Muraille production of The Drawer Boy, which pre- Show, actors visited, lived and members whose stories had miered on February 25, 1999. The production labored alongside farm families in inspired The Farm Show. Intrigued was directed by Miles Potter who was instru- mental in creating The Farm Show and was the community of Clinton, located Actors as tractors: cast members created many by the long-standing impact of the also Healey’s inspiration for the character of in the rural heartland of southern of the props needed in The Farm Show, original production, the Toronto- Miles in The Drawer Boy. Coincidentally, including the tractor they represent above. Potter directed the UMKC Department of Ontario. The stories they garnered based playwright developed the Theatre’s 2002 production of Le Cid.36 37
  3. 3. As the characters in The Miles offers to help out with holds up a mirror to the two and threatens to shatter the comfort- Drawer Boy embark upon a jour- the chores in exchange for a hands- appropriates the story of Morgan, able, predictable security of his and ney of awakening and self-realiza- on opportunity to conduct research “the farmer boy,” and Angus, the Morgan’s existence and forces tion, each unearths a unique, per- for an improvisational theatre once-artistic “drawer boy,” for a them to reexamine their past. sonal reality that is either piece about farming. The no-non- vignette in his theatre project. Farming may seem like an forgotten, concealed or undiscov- sense Morgan, amenable to the After Morgan and Angus attend a unusual subject for dramatic con- ered. The two older men, compan- idea of free labor, puts Miles to rehearsal and see their tale enacted templation but, like The Farm ions from childhood, have lived work as a farmhand. However, the onstage, the experience becomes a Show that inspired it, The Drawer and worked together for approxi- city boy knows nothing about typi- catalyst that opens a window into Boy bridges the gap between the mately 30 years since returning cal workaday farming tasks, such Angus’s long-buried, clouded rural and the urban while crossing from military duty in World War II. as driving a tractor, milking cows, memories. Unpeeling forgotten the line between truth and inven- Angus, who suffered a brain injury putting up hay or gathering eggs. and concealed truths layer by layer, tion. In its thematic exploration of during bombing in the London In more ways than one, this is a Angus gradually begins to piece the differences between myth and Blitz, is a mathematical savant coming-of-age experience for him. together his fragmented memories reality, Healey’s play proves to be with a diminished short-term Morgan puts the gullible young in search of the past. In the both a fictional detective story and memory and childlike approach to actor through his paces by telling process, he threatens to expose the a slice of theatrical history. the world. Plagued with fierce, Miles tall tales and making wry cleverly-crafted, fictional history Although the clash between rural intermittent headaches, Angus sport of his inexperience. As that has acted as a coping mecha- shrewdness and urban naiveté ini- occupies himself with making mishaps ensue, Morgan’s patience nism for the two farmers–a con- tially makes this play a pastoral sandwiches, baking bread and dis- runs thin and he assigns Miles the venient crutch that props up their comedy, the story ultimately pensing an imaginary tonic that he most absurd and tedious duties, pain of their lives and allows them evolves into a compelling drama of spoons from the kitchen faucet. preferring to keep the actor occu- to skirt the truth. The resurrection loyal friendship, lost love and abid- Meanwhile, Morgan buries himself pied and out of trouble. While the- of Angus’s wounded memories ing devotion. in the daily drudgery of farm work. atrical inspiration is the primary Every evening, Angus requests that purpose of Miles’s bucolic quest, Morgan recite the story of their he ultimately proves to be a quick Thomas Canfield, who holds a Ph.D. in English with a specialization in Elizabethan past with the two English women study and becomes more agricul- drama, is pursuing a second M.A. in theatre history and dramatic literature at UMKC, to whom they were once engaged, turally adroit than his hosts where he was the dramaturg for this season’s production of The Country Wife, William an exercise that forms their nightly imagine. Wycherley’s Restoration comedy. Last season, he was the dramaturg for the Kansas ritual. The intimate and complex During the course of his City Rep production of King Lear, and for Romeo and Juliet at the Heart of America dependency of these two charac- apprenticeship, Miles stumbles Shakespeare Festival, where he will return for this summer’s production of Othello. In ters has often been compared to the upon the personal history of the addition to composing the program essays for Gee’s Bend and The Drawer Boy at the relationship between George and two men when he overhears Mor- Rep this season, Dr. Canfield also is an English instructor at Grantham University. Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of gan recounting the tale of Angus’s Mice and Men. tragic injury and the aftermath. Soon, art imitates life when Miles38 39