Creating a Play within a Play
A story about storytelling. About male friendship. And about a little piece of Canadian history. Eh? ( as they say in Canada ).
“It kind of sneaks up on you,” director David Ellenstein says of the 1999 play that Time Magazine put on its Top Ten list of ‘New Classics.’
“You think it’s a warm, funny, rural tale of three people. You have no idea how much you’re going to be moved. It’s heartfelt, human, subtle . At first, you laugh and just go along with it, and then it really hits you. You end up caring for these guys more than you thought you would.
“It’s a lovely play,” he continues, “about two lifelong friends who grew up together and went off to World War II together, and one of them got brain injured. They’ve been living together on the farm for 30 years, one taking care of the other.”
And then, along comes a young man to shake up their lives. He’s an actor from a Toronto theater group, and he’s there to ‘research’ farm life for a new play.
The playwright, Michael Healey, drew inspiration from historical fact. And his young actor, Miles, is based on real actor Miles Potter.
Potter was part of a company, Theatre Passe Muraille , that produced alternative, environmental theater. Perhaps their most widely-seen collective production was “The Farm Show,” which was created in the 1970s from interviews the actors conducted with farmers in the rural heartland of southern Ontario .
“The Drawer Boy” has become one of the most successful plays in Canadian theater history.
The title comes from the fact that one of the older men was once an architecture student; his nickname referred to his constant drawing. In the heartfelt drama, laced with mystery and wry humor, the young man, Miles, gets the two aging farmers to tell about their lives. Then he goes off to work on the collaborative production.
“When he invites them to a rehearsal, “explains Ellenstein, “that triggers all the memories that the gentleman with brain damage hasn’t been able to call up. And this starts the unraveling of the stories of their lives, which are not what we thought at all.”
Distress, conflict and reluctant revelations ensue.
The role of Miles is played by 20 year-old Kevin Koppman-Gue, a native San Diegan who’s making his third appearance at North Coast Rep this season.
“I really like this play,” he says. “Miles is different from me. He has a very wide-eyed, idealistic, ‘70s view of the world. I’m a little more cynical. But he’s very eager to learn everything he possibly can. And that’s kind of how I feel about theater. I understand being passionate about something and wanting to get everything you possibly can out of every experience.
”David [Ellenstein, the director] keeps pushing me, which I like,” says Koppman-Gue. “One time, I got frustrated with the work, and he said something I’ll never forget: ‘You should be frustrated. I’m trying to make you think so much that you stop thinking or acting and just BE.’ That’s one piece of acting advice I’ll take to the grave.”
Koppman-Gue feels that, for young people or old, the play “gets down to some of the most important things in life: friendship, secrets and the power of storytelling. That’s relevant at any age.”
“The Drawer Boy” previews February 23-25; the regular run is February 26-March 6 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach .
Performances are: Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and pm. Select Wednesdays at 7pm and Saturdays at 2pm.
Tickets ($30-47) are available at 858-481-1055; www.northcoastrep.org