Here are some very kind words from Michael K Potter of Post Productions (check them out on Facebook!). And tickets are still available at the link on this site, at the door, or call me at 5199821291. Cheers!
In 1888, Nietzsche scribbled a line that he never published, but which has become a cherished keepsake in my box of stolen thoughts: “We have art lest we perish from the truth.” Art turns experience into an object of reflection, for reflection. Through art we channel our own suffering; through art we receive the suffering of others. We should receive it with gratitude, which is, Nietzsche tells us, “the essence of art”.
. . . Which brings me to Ghost Light Players’ The Drawer Boy, which I saw tonight at the Atellier on Droulliard. I do not have words sufficient to describe how this remarkable play affected me. The opening paragraphs of this post are about as close as I can get, clumsy and inadequate as they are.
I can say this: Not all theatre is art, nor need it be. Some theatre is just entertainment, after all, and that’s fine. Some days, hell, that’s exactly what I want, all I want. And just as certain: not all artistic theatre is entertaining. When theatre is both artistic and entertaining, fun and enlightening, well, that’s the sweet spot. The Drawer Boy hits the sweet spot.
I can say this: I had never heard of this play, by Michael Healey, the first in Ghost Light’s season of Canadiana. I had no expectations going in, save that everyone I knew who’d already seen it raved about it and had either already returned to see it again, or planned to. That told me there must be something of a treat waiting for us, but I didn’t want to know exactly what that might be, so I refused even to Google the play. That was the right choice.
I can say this: The Drawer Boy is a simple story about people who lead simple lives (two as farmers, one as an actor), and in a way it’s about how deceptive that simplicity can be. For even the simplest person is a unique singularity of experiential and psychological complexity, of dreams and losses, acts of grace and acts of shame. Even simple gestures, simple decisions, issue forth from our complicated, impenetrable histories. How can others hope to understand us when we can’t even understand ourselves? We tell ourselves stories. We tell others stories. The stories make life more manageable, neat, hopefully more satisfying. Sometimes those stories are kindnesses, which are often more important than truths.
And I can say this: I cannot think of a better cast for this play than Dean Valentino, Chris Lanspeary, and Jeremy Burke. As anyone who works with me knows, I have trouble *not* studying whatever I’m experiencing and just being lost in the moment. Yet here I was, utterly immersed in these three lives. These were not perfect performances thank god; they were *real* moments being lived by *real* people in front of an audience. Several times I had to catch myself, remind myself that what I was seeing wasn’t real because Valentino’s moments of distress so disturbed me. And then seconds later, I was immersed again. I have to single Dean Valentino out, only because I’ve worked with him in the past, and seen him perform many times — and I’ve never seen him play a character like this before. Not even close. Actors can become typecast because they’re obviously good at particular things: Dean is good at rage, intimidation, irony, and at being the smartest guy in the room. Those are his obvious strengths, and directors have put them to good use over the years. But the role of Angus in The Drawer Boy is different, allowing him to plumb new depths and showcase strengths and depth I didn’t know he had. As Angus, Dean provided the audience with authentic human beauty, in all its sweet, tortured, reality. Playing with, and often against him, Lanspeary was playful, gruff, and intensely genuine. For much of the play he’s trolling the young interloper who’s come to stay on the farm, but by the end we understand him thoroughly, whether we agree with his choices or not. And we understand from his first scene with Angus that Lanspeary’s Morgan cares deeply for this person. Without that obvious love, we wouldn’t care about why he feels it — and it’s the why that moves the story forward. Why such devotion? Why these particular rituals of interaction? Why this charming little story he tells? Burke’s character, Miles, is drawn in precisely because of the authenticity and devotion he witnesses. He wants to learn more. He wants to peer behind it. He’s a bit of a romantic, yearning to experience something real — but only, at first, so it can be used for his own gain. As Miles gets to know this odd couple, he begins to care about them as well — and they come to care about him (even if Morgan won’t admit it). Burke was always convincing as this young man bursting with curiosity, ambition, and also concern. He also provides some of the best comedic moments, especially when trying to imitate a cow.
No performance, just truth, from three gifted actors working from an excellent script and (I must assume) a perceptive director. “We have art lest we perish from the truth” — which is always both more universal and more particular than we think.
For this experience, I am grateful. Thank you, Ghost Light Players (Jeffery Douglas Allen Bastien). If I can make it, I’ll be back for seconds.
To everyone else in Windsor-Essex, I cannot stress this enough: if you love theatre, life, art, storytelling, opportunities to reflect on your own choices, drama, comedy, intimately-staged experiences, enriched conversations after a show, or even if you don’t know what you want or need but are open to trying something, go see The Drawer Boy before it ends its run at the end of September.
I would say you can blame me if you don’t enjoy it, but that won’t happen. You’ll enjoy it, and you’ll be thinking about it long after it’s over, and years from now we’ll meet at a market somewhere and you’ll want to talk about it over a coffee. So will I.