By John Quinn
Review: ‘The Drawer Boy’
Leave it to an actor to stir up trouble in Detroit Rep show
Two men – one stuck in the here-and-now and the other living with the memories of the past – share not only a house and a farm, but a bond of friendship that runs deeper than most. But where do the boundaries of friendship and love end and self-righteousness begin – or better yet, when is it permissible to keep secrets that might be upsetting to one, while shedding a not-too-flattering light on the other?
After attending last Friday night’s performance of “The Drawer Boy” at the Detroit Repertory Theatre, it is easy to see why Michael Healey’s engaging story has quickly become one of the most oft-produced plays in regional theaters throughout the United States and Canada. Sure, it telegraphs early on that all is not as it seems to be; Healey did that by design. Rather, the script’s attraction for both the actors and the audience is how powerfully the playwright peels away each layer of fabrication – however well intentioned or not – until the full truth is laid bare for all to see.
Friends since childhood, Morgan and Angus are middle-aged farmers living somewhere in central Ontario. While serving in the army during World War II, the men met a pair of English women – and romance blossomed. During an air raid, however, Angus suffered a head trauma. From that point forward, Angus lives only in the present; his memory is constantly wiped clean.
For the past 30 years, then, Morgan has taken care of his lifelong buddy; the two have comfortably settled into a routine that serves them well.
That is, until a young actor from Toronto shows up at their door with a seemingly harmless request: to work on their farm – for free yet! – while researching material for a new play his acting troupe is developing.
(If that sounds far-fetched, think again: Healey’s concept is based upon a true-life project that resulted in “The Farm Show,” an interactive play that toured Canada beginning in 1972.)
Although inept at farm work – and the butt of many practical jokes played on him by Morgan – Miles’ research innocently hits a little too close to home, the results of which change the farmers’ lives forever.
Director Yolanda Fleischer has taken the subtleties, humor and pathos found in Healey’s script and vividly staged a riveting production, while actors Harold Hogan (Angus), B.J. Love (Morgan) and Timothy McKernan (Miles) expertly breathe life into their multi-faceted characters.
Most notable is Hogan’s portrayal of Angus, who in lesser hands could easily become a simpleton rather than the complex man he really is.
Review: ‘The Lion King’
A dandy “Lion” prowls at Masonic Theatre
Bounding into Detroit with all the muscular exuberance of its namesake, “The Lion King” hits the ground running. A highly stylized and sophisticated reworking of the Disney feature film, it won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Director of a Musical for the creative force driving this production, Julie Traymor. And I’d be “lion” if I said this wasn’t going to be the hottest ticket around town for a while.
A Disney hallmark implies high production values, and “The Lion King” is no exception. But unlike, say, the high-tech gimmicks of a “Beauty and the Beast,” the stunning effects in this show are the result of classic theater techniques. Most notable is the use of Asian-inspired puppetry and African masks. Japanese Bunraku puppetry, Thai stick and shadow puppets, bird kites – a whole world of “imagineering” is employed in populating the African grasslands. The featherweight, carbon graphite masks allow for a freedom of movement that is as astonishing as it is beautiful. But, whether the mask is graphite or greasepaint, the transformation of actors into animals makes this show a visual feast.
This “Lion” never sleeps. The story is told mainly through movement and dance, the costumes, the whole visual spectacle; they conceal the shortcomings of flimsy book and superficial lyrics. Listening, though, to the heavy percussion and big, open harmonies of the South African inspired score is a true delight. You miss the sound when the music veers into other genres.
I would be remiss not to mention how much the success of this show depends on the talents of pre-teen actors. The first act hinges on mature performances from the kids playing Young Simba and his lioness friend, Nala. Between them, they have a huge amount of stage time, and their appearance is both endearing and polished. Alternating in the role of Young Simba will be Brandon Kane and Rydell Rollins; Aryn Mikala Spry and Calicia Wilson portray Nala. With troupers like these, the next generation of the theater is in good hands.
Now the caveat: Regardless of its roots as an animated feature, it would be wise to exercise caution in bringing very young children. But a child who is aware enough to catch the abstracts of costume and makeup, who can “see” the puppeteers and not be confused, will do just fine; otherwise, be prepared for wailing.