The Drawer Boy
Occasionally an actor is offered a career-defining role and, even more occasionally, that actor grabs it, applies every bit of skill ever learned and turns in a career-defining performance.
Mark Kilmurry does that with the role of Angus in Michael Healey's play, The Drawer Boy .
The Drawer Boy is classically simple in construction: a stranger arrives and is the catalyst for change in a hitherto stable situation. And it's based on a true story which is now part of Canadian theatre folklore.
Miles (Adriano Cappalletta) is a young student actor-playwright who turns up on the doorstep of a ramshackle Ontario farmhouse one morning desperate to find a story to contribute to a group writing project. He is researching rural life, he tells the suspicious and bemused Morgan (Daniel Mitchell); and the permanently bemused Angus (Kilmurry), and he wants to observe their working life and turn it into scenes for a play. Without a good scene, he won't feature in the finished production - he begs to be allowed to stay.
Michael Healey found himself in this dilemma - and his scene was found wanting and got cut from the play! He later wrote the whole story - including that humiliation - and it became The Drawer Boy .
As Angus obsessively makes sandwiches, wipes his feet and fails to remember who Miles is for more than minutes at a time, it is apparent that dewy-eyed Miles has stumbled into a situation that has little to do with bucolic bliss and simple sons of the soil.
Angus's situation is tragic - as Morgan reluctantly reveals to the persistent Miles - and becomes more so as the relationships begin to shift. The consequence of a WW2 head wound is that Angus has no memory beyond the present. For gradually revealed reasons, his boyhood friend, the sardonic Morgan, has taken it upon himself to care for Angus who displays the alternately demonic-seraphic behavioural patterns of a toddler, with one exception: numbers. Give him a list of numbers or a set of invoices and accounts and answers are delivered quicker than the paper can be shuffled.
Both Mitchell and Cappalletta turn in fine performances under Sandra Bates' direction but Kilmurry has found extraordinary depth and pathos. One moment he is all jagged edges, unintentional menace and white-faced rage; the next, his face changes and takes on the sweet innocence of beatific youth. It's an astonishing tour de force.
The Drawer Boy starts out as a lighthearted exploration of culture clash as the presumptuous city boy's patronising intentions are confounded by sly country bumpkin humour. Then, as the onion layers of Angus's plight are peeled back, the tone and intent become darker.
Healey is a Canadian playwright hitherto unknown to Sydney audiences but rising fast in North America. His one-man play Kicks toured here in the late 90s. The Drawer Boy (1999) was staged by the Perth Theatre Company and given a rehearsed reading in Brisbane. It won a swag of awards in Canada and the US - where it was staged by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company - and has also been produced in Europe. He never settles for the obvious, or trite solutions, and the result is an unexpected and moving portrayal of love and friendship in the face of awful adversity.
The Drawer Boy , Ensemble Theatre now extended to December 23.