Review: The Drawer Boy—a surprising, satisfying bite

Review by Lucy Haines

In the midst of a brutal Edmonton cold snap, there’s warmth to be found inside the Varscona Theatre via Shadow Theatre’s latest production, The Drawer Boy. A 1999 award-winning farm story from Ontario’s Michael Healey, it’s the text and three fine performances that rise to provide a most satisfying chew, like the play’s oft-seen loaf of sandwich bread: burnt, sliced or used to soothe body and soul. 

Imagine a late summer prairie wind rustling through the corn fields, a screen door slamming on the back porch. A simple kitchen (set designed by Daniel vanHeyst) provides the backdrop for the story of two old farmers—lifelong friends whose dreams are derailed by World War II. 

Morgan and Angus (played beautifully by veteran performers Glenn Nelson and Reed McColm) who went to war and returned relatively unscathed—or not?—are now old bachelors running a farm and living a quiet life until a young stranger comes to the door: an actor, Miles, (newcomer Paul-Ford Manguelle) looking to learn about farm life for a play he wants to write. 

Though this story references the real-life collective creation movement of the 60s and 70s embodied in the influential Canadian play The Farm Show, Healey’s The Drawer Boy uses that notion as a springboard to interject the character of Miles (who learns that if you don’t produce, you’re done for; simple farm—and stage—truths). 

As Angus, who has suffered a brain injury during an air raid in the war, McColm is superb. The child-like qualities, bursts of anger, and physical changes in McColm’s performance (especially in the second act) are subtle and powerful as Angus discovers the lies he’s believed about his life for decades. 

Nelson is likewise effective as stalwart Morgan, who keeps the farm running and secrets well-hidden until Miles overturns the hay bales of mistruths. Nelson can play exasperated and grumpy with the best of them, but as Morgan, he adds a layer of tenderness in his relationship with Angus—they’re like an old married couple who survive revealed truths together despite upheaval. And as Miles, Manguelle navigates the twosome with humour and skill–bloodied by farm work, but astute at addressing the wounds inside the house, too. 

Shadow Theatre’s artistic director John Hudson is at the helm of this production, the second of the company’s 30th season, and Hudson’s love for the material is evident. By allowing his actors to unearth weighty secrets in a natural, unhurried way, the audience can tie threads together that way too, and understand themes of love, guilt, sacrifice, and more. 

The Drawer Boy has been produced countless times across Canada and in languages around the world. Lucky us, Edmonton, we get the chance to see this classic here again. 

The Drawer Boy plays through Feb. 4. See for tickets.


Lucy Haines is a longtime arts writer, covering theatre, music, and the arts in and around Edmonton. Her reviews and columns have appeared in Alberta Prime Times, Metro News Edmonton, and more. And sometimes, when she’s not writing about it, she hits the stage too!


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