Saturday January 19, 2013

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- In many ways Miles, the pivotal character in Michael Healey’s "The Drawer Boy," is the quintessential outsider.

As played by Jason Dolmetsch in the sluggish, deliberate production he also has directed for Hubbard Hall Theater Company, Miles is an earnest, well-intentioned, extremely naive young actor who has come, along with the other members of a Toronto-based ensemble theater company, to a farming community in rural Ontario to live with the farmers for a few weeks and experience and absorb rural farming life first-hand for a project being developed by these urban actors.

Miles hitches up with a pairmofb Word War II veterans, Morgan (Benjie White), a taciturn man with a devilish sense of humor, and his lifetime friend and housemate, Angus (Philip Kerr), a gentle, memory-challenged man, the victim of an explosion during a blitzkrieg in London that has left him with a metal plate in his head.

That was then. In the long now that has followed, Miles and Angus have built a private, somewhat sheltered life on their farm, a life buoyed by a narrative sustained by Morgan as a means of protecting Angus from a painful emotional truth.

But Miles -- whose efforts to catch the essence of experiences he has been having on Morgan and Angus’ farm have proven theatrically fruitless -- has a turn of artistic fortune when, one night, he overhears Morgan retell, as he has on many restless nights, their story to Angus and co-opts the tale for his own purposes, with shattering consequences.

In its often stumbling, uncertain way, "The Drawer Boy" is about the intersections of arf and life; about the bonds of friendship; the stories we tell and why we tell them and how they define and nurture us. It’s a play that does not always reward the patience required in its telling, especially in this plodding production in Hubbard Hall’s intimate black box Freight Depot Theater.

Dolmetsch’s double turn as director and as actor -- a challenge even under the best, most experienced circumstances -- leaves this experienced cast somewhat ruderless. White comes the closest of the three to developing a character with depth and nuance, although he misses a sardonic edge. For their respective parts, Kerr and Dolmetsch work valiantly and with determination but their respective portrayals are little more than one-dimensional, leaving truth, on stage and in life, on the outside looking in.