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Commonweal goes Canadian for 'Drawer Boy'

Tom Weber

Date Modified: 10/16/2012 2:00 PM

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LANESBORO — What happens in Canada too often stays in Canada.

That's about to change when the Commonweal Theatre presents "The Drawer Boy," which won a host of awards when it first appeared in Canada in 1999.

"A lot of folks in the U.S. don't know about it because it's Canadian," said Leah Cooper, of the Minnesota Theatre Alliance, who is directing this production at the Commonweal.

The play, written by Michael Healey, is a drama about what happens when a young man from Toronto, researching rural life for a play, shows up at the farm of two bachelor farmers. One of the farmers suffered a traumatic brain injury suffered in World War II, and the other sort of watches over him.

"The Drawer Boy" features Hal Cropp and David Hennessey as the farmers and Ethan Bjelland as the city slicker.

"What really drew me to the script," said Cooper, "is that it explores some complicated, serious issues but it never feels heavy-handed. It's very gentle. You never feel like you're being manipulated."

That understatement is typically Canadian, she said. But in preview performances so far, the play has resonated well with southern Minnesota audiences.

"I imagine it would be tough for an audience in Texas or Florida," Cooper said. "In Minnesota, we're not far from Canada, geographically or culturally. Plus, it's set on a dairy farm."

In the play, the farmers spring a few tricks on the unsuspecting city boy. "The jokes play so well here," Cooper said. "The audiences have roared at them."

More than a few observers have pointed out the at least superficial similarities between "The Drawer Boy" and "Of Mice and Men."

"It looks like that from the outside," Cooper said. In reality, the two stories have little in common, she said.

In particular, "The Drawer Boy" explores issues related to wartime service. In fact, American audiences might have to be reminded that Canadians fought in World War II for two years longer than Americans; eventually 1.1 million Canadians, out of population of 12 million, served during the war.

"There is a lot about Canada that Americans forgot or never knew," Cooper said.

If she has anything to do with it, "The Drawer Boy" won't be part of that list.

"First and foremost, I hope audiences enjoy a story well-told," Cooper said. "But secondly, I hope they think about how deeply friendship and art can take old, battered hearts and open them back up."