Unfamiliar with "The Drawer Boy" until its recent Abingdon Theatre debut in Manhattan and Long Island premiere last Thursday by the Hampton Theatre Company, I took the title to mean, perhaps, an infant sleeping in a snug open drawer substituting for a crib.
In a way, that might still bear relevance to this masterful drama by Canadian playwright Michael Healey.
When we meet Angus, who shares an Ontario farmhouse with lifelong friend Morgan, we assume he's a mental cripple. We soon learn he's quite bright. He just can't remember what happens from one minute to the next. The friends are visited by Miles, a playwright-actor wannabe who asks if he can hang around, absorbing verite for his troupe's project on farm life. Morgan has fun at Miles' expense, assigning him nonsensical chores such as washing rocks and mucking out the barn with a spoon. During his stay, he overhears a story about how Angus and Morgan became loner bachelors.
We also learn that Angus has an excuse for his short memory. There's a chunk of war shrapnel in his head from the friends' service together in Europe. When they attend a rehearsal of the farm play, memories -- especially Angus' -- become unmoored. The reality of their past enters a jarring "Twilight Zone" interregnum between what is real and what is the record as they've shared it all these years.
The title refers to Angus' love of drawing and cordoning off sections of the sky into countable clusters of stars. He's a math savant, it turns out.
Sarah Hunnewell directs three astutely cast actors of perfect range for these disparate male roles. Ben Schnickel as Miles teeters between interloper and confidant. He wants to use the farmers, but finds their humanity too disarming. Joe Pallister as Morgan is Big Brother, always protective of his friend but also of himself and his farm enterprise. He doesn't want to go there, wherever there may be. Edward Brennan as Angus invites us into his world with a childlike openness that strains against his manly strength. "Of Mice and Men" comes to mind.
Their superb performances are directed with vision for the words on the page so tenderly arranged by the playwright. Add James Ewing and Sean Marbury's ethereal yet earthy set and Sebastian Paczynski's sunrise-to-moonrise lighting and you have a polished gem. Don't miss "The Drawer Boy."
WHAT "The Drawer Boy" by Michael Healey
Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Ave.
INFO $23-$25, $10 students; hamptontheatre.org, 631-653-8955