Based upon a play by Michael Healey, The Drawer Boy finds its roots in a vital piece of Canadian theatre history. In 1972, a group of young, Toronto-based actors worked alongside Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille and leaped into the study of an Ontario farming community. The actors immersed themselves into the lives of farm families in the community of Clinton, Ontario, and labored on the farms while creating stories from their experiences. These stories became part of a theatrical collective experience called The Farm Show, a show that opened in Toronto and toured in parts of Canada.
30 years later, The Drawer Boy was inspired by The Farm Show with Healey fictionalizing events around the experience and telling a story that could have, but didn't, come out from it. From Healey's work comes this first cinematic adaptation, a film directed by Arturo Perez Torres about a young theatre actor named Miles (Jakob Ehman) who arrives at the Huron County farm of Angus (Stuart Hughes) and Morgan (Richard Clarkin), two aging farming bachelors.
At first, it would appear that The Drawer Boy is destined to be a rather low-key, laid back comedy based upon cultural differences, though a frequently present edginess seems to indicate that there's more lying underneath the surface of everything that's unfolding in The Drawer Boy. Indeed, at times I even found myself reflecting back to a film from a year or so ago called The Stanford Prison Experiment, a film with a very different story yet a film with a tone that, early in its playing, was almost unsteady in the way it presented its material. While The Stanford Prison Experiment became a much darker, more harrowing story, The Drawer Boy becomes a deeply moving and thought-provoking drama about friendship, devotion and lost love wrapped around themes of myth vs. reality, truth vs. fiction and the stories of our lives amidst it all.
The Drawer Boy will resonate most deeply with those who do, in fact, have an appreciation for stage productions. While the film is wonderfully adapted from stage-to-screen, it also remains faithful to its source material and avoids excessive distractions. If you've ever sat in a darkened theatre watching a play that required maximum focus so that you didn't miss anything, then you'll understand what is needed to fully appreciate The Drawer Boy, a film that is at its in its quietest and when Torres allows the silence to speak volumes.
The film's ensemble cast is uniformly strong, Ehman's Miles a sort of nerdish hippie who is clearly out of his element yet completely and utterly sincere in his presence. Both Stuart Hughes and Richard Clarkin are absolutely riveting, especially in the film's latter half when attitudes begin shifting and stories become revealed. Among the supporting players, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett and Sochi Fried especially shine but, it must be stated, there isn't a weak link present here.
D.P. Cabot McNenly affords the film an earthy glaze that is both crystal clear yet period appropriate. Kudos must also be given for Joanne Dente's costume design and Bob Wiseman's southern-tinged original music.
The Drawer Boy is a finalist amongst Heartland's narrative features and, in what is a truly stellar year for the Heartland Film Festival, it's pretty much impossible to count anyone until the awards are announced. For more information on screenings, visit the Heartland Film website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic