Unlocking the Painful Past

Morgan and Angus are farmers living their quiet lives until Miles enters the scene.  Miles is an actor wanting to study them in order to write a play about farming.  One night Miles overhears Morgan telling Angus the story of the Drawer Boy which she includes in the play.  When Angus, who can only remember the here and now due to a head injury, sees the play, he begins to remember his past. . .and the painful truths hiding there.  This is The Drawer Boy and it is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This is what theatre is all about.  A brilliant story shaped by a genius storyteller and told by 3 masters of their crafts.

Michael Healey’s script contains the finest usage of voice I have ever heard in a tale.  The play has to be seen to understand what I mean, but most plays use the characters to tell the story.  Healey uses the characters to create the story.  It’s almost like there was no plot, but the three actors were simply conjuring the entire play out of thin air and it had me enraptured and on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.  The storytelling is meticulous and well-constructed as it builds up steadily and sturdily to a climactic peak and then slowly and surely descends to an epic resolution.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek’s direction is the sharpest I’ve seen this season.  His creation of this world is akin to a Bob Ross painting.  It seems so simple and rudimentary at first, but he constantly adds subtle colors and details until a beautiful masterpiece leaps from the canvas.  The staging is absolutely impeccable with the story taking place in a dilapidated farmhouse (another Jim Othuse winner) and he managed to make it feel small and enclosed while still keeping his performers socially distanced.  His control of the pacing was sure and confident and he guided his 3 actors to sterling, immaculate performances.

Olivia Howard has a naturalness and believability to her acting that is astonishing to behold.  Her Miles is a free-spirited, experimental actor with a genuinely good heart and her performance had me hooked from the word go.  Howard’s storytelling just rings with pure honesty.  Some of my favorite moments were her trying to get into the mind of a cow as she struck bovine poses and mooed as well as her telling the story of Hamlet in the first person to an enthralled Angus.  I also admired her drive and determination to helping Angus achieve peace by helping him to remember his forgotten past.

Erik Quam brings a delightful childlike innocence to Angus.  His body language always suggests that he is trying to remember something with the way he stares at a patch on the wall where something once hung or the way he parses out the sky to count stars which clearly brings him joy.  Quam convincingly portrays Angus’ affliction as he visibly winces and groans with the onset of debilitating headaches and is constantly surprised by seeing Miles anew after she briefly leaves his sightline.  His joy and agony as he slowly remembers his hidden past is equal parts wonderful, tragic and right on the money.

When I think of a farmer, Mark Thornburg’s portrayal of Morgan is the image that pops into my head.  Thornburg has a terrific laconic drawl to his delivery and a methodic lope to his movements.  His deep bass voice is perfect for narration especially with his telling of the stories of the Drawer Boy.  And his voice captures amazing nuance.  Morgan has tight control over his emotions and its just little tonal changes Thornburg makes to show when Morgan is happy or when he’s starting to lose his cool.  And Thornburg will make your heart shatter when you learn of the sacrifices Morgan has made to aid his friend.

Aside from his stellar farmhouse, Jim Othuse’s lights flesh out the play with sweet transitions from day to night and back again.  He also uses the lights to match the show’s emotions.  Yellow and bright for fun and happy moments.  Blue for sad and somber moments.  Black for moments of bitterness.  John Gibilisco’s sounds help create the countryside with the tweeting of birds and the roar of a tractor.  J. Isaiah Smith has composed a score that sent me to another world and his use of piano and keyboard sent chills through me.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes breathed life into the characters with the simple and poor clothing of the farmers to the 70s threads worn by Miles.  The properties of Darin Kuehler and Greg Combs gave the farmhouse a long, lived-in quality with its supplies and knick-knacks.

If you appreciate the art of storytelling then this is the play for you.  It’s guaranteed to take you on an emotional roller coaster and make you appreciate the treasure of true friendship.

The Drawer Boy runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 2.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets begin at $36 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by calling 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  The show is also available for streaming at https://www.showtix4u.com/events/ocp. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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