CAMBRIDGE - “The Drawer Boy,” playing at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge through Sunday, January 20, is officially the first don’t miss theater production of the year. I know it’s only mid-January, but this would be don’t miss theater any time of the year.
“The Drawer Boy” is one of those plays that sneak up on you to squirrel its way into your mind and heart. You might forget some of the details of the show, but you will never forget the feeling of having experienced an intensely personal story that makes you understand the power of storytelling and the responsibilities of those who create and tell those tales.
It is almost impossible to describe the impact of the show by simply telling the plot. This is a work that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. Part of that has to do with the exceptional performances offered at Hubbard Hall, but a major influence is that the underlying themes of the play do not fully reveal themselves until well after the performance is over.
The play, written by Michael Healey, concerns two older War War II veterans who operate a small dairy farm. One of the men, Angus, has a mental disability caused when during the war, fragments of a bomb tore his head apart. He has no short or long term memory. The only person he can always recall is his friend and caretaker Morgan.
When, Miles, a young actor, arrives asking to be put up so he can observe their work on the farm in order to create an original theater piece on farming – things change.
As the young innocent asks questions about the men’s life and friendship he makes discoveries that alters everyone’s perception about storytelling and the need for truth in one’s life.
Though “The Drawer Boy” is a moving piece of theater, it is also a very funny play. Morgan teases the naïve Miles having him perform silly greenhorn chores. There is a delightful scene where even Angus realizes the script of “Hamlet” lacks credibility. Thanks to an awe-inspiring performance by Philip Kerr as Angus, the man’s simple behavior is funny without depreciating his handicap.
Indeed, Kerr offers a courageous and brilliant performance of a man who struggles to make sense of a life without a past or future. He is often funny, frequently heartbreaking and always endearing. And, miraculously, he is very wise. It’s acting of the highest order – smart, brave and sensitive.
As Morgan, Benjie White turns in his best ever performance at Hubbard Hall. Though he doesn’t have the same emotional highs and lows as Angus, Morgan faces many choices that are not always clear-cut. White shows Morgan to be an honest, strong man who cares deeply for his friend.
The character of young Miles is mostly that of a foil who’s function is to stir a pot that has been dormant. Jason Dolmetsch is charming and extremely likeable in the role, but his greatest contribution is as the director of the play he keep the piece focused and in control. He wisely trust silence, sometimes too much - as he lets the ending and beginnings of scenes linger a bit too long. The pace of the presentation might be faster but it could not be more loving.
Another quibble is “Drawer Boy” is a Canadian work set in Canada. There are no vocal inflections to indicate this and it might be more honest to include an homage to the setting.
My only genuine complaint on the production is for some reason Hubbard Hall who usually runs their shows over four weekends only plays “The Drawer Boy” for two. It closes on Sunday. Do not miss it.
“The Drawer Boy,” Hubbard Hall, Cambridge. Performances 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $25, 677-2495, www.hubbardhall.org.