by Michael Healey
Directed by Alexander Dinelaris
Oberon Theatre Ensemble
at the June Havoc Theatre
312 West 36th Street

Reviewed by David Spencer

It has taken the  off-off Broadway Oberon Theatre Ensemble to finally bring the award-winning Canadian play "The Drawer Boy" by Michael Healey, an international favorite, which has been making the rounds of the US regionals to great acclaim for the nearly 15 years since its Toronto debut. And one can see why: a sweet three-hander, it offers three swell and unique roles for a talented trio to assay.

                  It’s 1972, the locale is a farm in Ontario, and young, callow Miles (Alex Fast) is an actor in a troupe putting together a play about farmers and farm life. [Playwright Healey, himself a prominent Canadian actor—among the stars of the TV cult-hit Canadian legal dark comedy This is Wonderland—He shows up at the house of two veteran farmers, wry-witted Morgan (Brad Fryman) and his slow-witted, seemingly retarded (due to an accident years before) partner and best friend Angus (William Laney). Miles offers his services as a farmhand in exchange for first-hand knowledge of the life, and the mutual influence of him on the farmers and vice versa creates an alchemy that changes everything–most profoundly in Angus, who, breaking out of years of methodical pattern, finds his mind newly engaged, synapses newly connecting across the barriers of time and injury…such that his once-staid existence with Morgan is changed forever.

                  An understandably audience-friendly heart-warmer about friendship, awakening and articulating the-hard-truth-that-heals, "The Drawer Boy" is here given appropriately low-key direction by Alexander Dinelaris—though at pivotal moments it is too low-key. Brad Fryman’s dry manner is overused to the point of becoming laconic and, frankly, inaudible when we most need to hear him—two monologues in particular that literally change the course of the play. (Fryman seems capable of an alternate delivery, so this is not about talent or ineptitude; a clear choice has been made, but it’s a conscious mistake and it comes close to crippling the play. Fortunately, the rest of the production is sound enough, and the play so engaging that the audience is far more forgiving of this than they ought to be. Alex Fast is well-cast to deliver Miles’ quirky mix of city sophistication with bumbling naïveté about the country—not an easy balance—and if William Laney’s Angus doesn’t exactly steal the show, he certainly claims its center with his complex and shaded performance of a deceptively simple character.

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