"The Drawer Boy" at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale is a jigsaw puzzle of a comic drama.
Produced by Thinking Cap Theatre and directed with beautiful brush strokes by Nicole Stodard, the play is a study of memories, the power of storytelling and much more. In fact, one of the amazing things about the Michael Healey script is that it travels to so many places without leaving the Ontario farmhouse where all the action is set in 1972.
Miles (Scott Douglas Wilson) has left his Toronto acting troupe to learn about farming firsthand for his next theatrical project. By the way, this actually happened and flowered into the collective play "The Farm Show."
A young actor who hasn't begun to earn his confident saunter, Miles invites himself onto the farm of two lifelong friends, Morgan (Jim Gibbons) and Angus (Mark Kroczynski). Due to an injury from the London Blitzkrieg during World War II, Angus has neurological flare-ups and a shorted-out memory. Morgan patiently cares for his buddy, soothing his troubled mind and re-telling a story of their two British wives and the building of a home for the two families. Morgan was "the farmer," and Angus was "the drawer boy," because of his architectural drafting.
"I keep telling it because it made you feel better," Morgan tells Angus late in the show. By then, Miles has stumbled into the realization that the story isn't all true and something darker and less sentimental is going on.
The conclusion may be all too convenient and all too efficiently timed out, but that is hardly the fault of the cast, who have scrubbed off as much staginess and artifice as possible from a script that wanders into Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" and sidesteps into Shakespeare's "Hamlet." The actors are balancing this astringently underplayed story, each adding on to the house of cards. Stodard has honed it all down, keeping the focus disciplined and tight.
We are left with art's power to entertain on one level, but heal and transform on another. But long after the bows and applause, you'll be running the play back in your mind and finding other levels, essentially retelling the story to yourself … because it makes you feel better.
"The Drawer Boy" runs through Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; with 5 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays (Saturday at 5 p.m. on Nov. 17 only). Tickets cost from $25 to $35 ($15 for students). Cash-only at the door. Call 954-678-1496 or go to ThinkingCapTheatre.com.