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Review: Hyde Park Theatre’s ‘The Drawer Boy’

Staff Writer
Austin 360

It can be easy to forget that memories are essentially just the stories that we choose to tell ourselves. We shape and reshape our past in the ways we re-tell it.

This is one of the key reminders we get out of Michael Healey’s “The Drawer Boy,” playing now through April 26 at Hyde Park Theatre.

Set in the 1970s and centering on events of World War Two, the play deftly shifts between humor and pathos, telling the story of two friends and the past that one can’t remember and the other can’t forget.

Affable, endearing, and childlike, Angus (Michael Stuart) has a war injury that prevents him from forming new memories. Crotchety and cynical but unfalteringly patient, Morgan (Ken Webster) takes care of his friend and the farm they share.

Miles, a young actor (Jon Cook), arrives at the door of two older Canadian farmers and asks to observe the men as they go about their daily lives. Along with his theater collective, Miles is trying to write a play about farming – without knowing the first thing about it. Morgan takes a lot of pleasure in setting the boy ridiculous tasks (such as cleaning the gravel and rotating the eggs), and Miles eventually comes to learn more about the men’s pasts than any practical aspects of running a farm.

Healey’s play has been widely produced, and Hyde Park’s original production of the show (in 2004) won awards for both comedy and drama. “Drawer Boy” offers some hilarious meta-commentary on theater and actors, as well as poignant reflections on memory and regret.

Michael Stuart offers a tremendous performance as the simple war veteran. And Webster and Cook work in delightful harmony as comedic counterpoints.

While the attempts at Canadian accents prove more distracting than helpful, the production’s efforts at realism are otherwise top notch. As always, Ia Ensterä’s set is utterly gorgeous in its attention to detail. And Robert S. Fisher has crafted ambient day-to-day noises of farm life that blend almost seamlessly into the world of the play.

Under Webster’s direction, the show is filled with silence and stillness, which occasionally drags the pace to a halt.

But the actors expertly navigate the script’s abrupt transitions from light comedy to emotional density, creating an experience that may have you both laughing and crying in the same two-hour show.

“The Drawer Boy” continues through April 26. www.hydeparktheatre.org