Close The Drawer and turn out the lights. That will be the story next month, as the Magic Circle Center calls it quits after this season’s final production, The Drawer Boy, which opens Friday. After five seasons amid the chaparral of Carmel Valley, its doors will close, but not before the Center stages its swan song, a quirky, brilliantly-written Canadian play about taking responsibility for one’s actions.
“The Drawer Boy emphasizes the transformative power of theater,” says Dr. Elsa Con, the theater’s founder and driving force. “It’s ironic that it’s our last play.”
Calling it the best-written play she’d ever read, Con says she decided to stage The Drawer Boy long before she realized that the Magic Circle Center was doomed. Hailed as one of the ten best plays of 2001 by Time magazine and the winner of almost every major Canadian theater award, The Drawer Boy was written by Mike Healey and tells the story of Miles, a young actor from Toronto, who shows up on the doorstep of a farm in rural Ontario asking to help out and “observe” for a few days. It’s 1972, and he’s part of a collective working on a play about farming.
The farm he’s chosen belongs to Morgan and Angus, a pair of lifelong friends who settled there after returning from WWII. As a result of an injury, Angus has a steel plate in his head and suffers from this age’s most popular mental complaint: lack of short-term memory. In a running gag that predates the movie 50 First Dates by five years, Miles has to quickly re-introduce himself every time he runs into Angus or risk getting beaten.
The play, which looks at first as if it might be just charming and comical, soon begins to hint at shadowy secrets. Healey moves the action relentlessly toward a devastating revelation and an ending that is genuinely heartbreaking.
“The characters are richly developed and the story is really funny and really moving,” Con says. “It’s one of those plays where you’re laughing at the beginning and crying at the end. As a director, I just got out of the way and let the script do its magic.”
It’s an emotional trajectory that might also describe the life of the Magic Circle Center.
“Losing the theater is going to be a huge transition,” Con says. “We’re in a mourning process right now—not to get too grim about it.”
Citing drastic reductions in funding for the arts, combined with the escalating costs of running the theater, Con says she was forced to announce the impending closure of the theater last month.
“We’ve seen tremendous cutbacks in funding and grants and increasing costs” she says. “We’re only a 60-seat theater, so even though we were selling out most shows, we were still looking at a huge financial deficit. We came to the conclusion that if we were no longer capable of producing quality shows, we wouldn’t continue. We don’t want to compromise.”
Con is quick to point out that the Magic Circle has always had “wonderful” local membership support, but admits it just wasn’t enough. “We couldn’t go on with a few individual members saddled with the bulk of the costs.”
Despite the theater’s gloomy outlook, Con says she realizes the Magic Circle has had a good run. “Looking back,” she says. “We feel good about what we’ve done.”
The Magic Circle Center broke on to the scene with Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1999. Guided by Con’s vision of intimate, high-quality drama, the theater produced five seasons of memorable plays. Drawn to psychological drama, Con’s personal favorites include The Laramie Project, Wit, Agnes of God, Sylvia, Social Security and Cuckoo’s Nest.
Although many of the Peninsula’s major actors have tramped upon the Magic Circle’s boards at one time or another, an informal company of familiar faces developed over the years to include Joe Jackson, Laura Cote, Sherry Kalakaf, Rollie Dick, Dawn Flood, Greg Falge, Richard Boynton, Michael Robbins, Neva Hans, Roo Hornady and Susan Forrest.
Directed by Con, The Drawer Boy includes Flip Baldwin, Rollie Dick and Matthew Rose, and features a realistic yet angular set by Laura Cote. Closing night is Sept. 26, and as word spreads about the Magic Circle’s demise, the shows are selling out, so don’t delay to catch one last glimpse of this intimate, high quality theater.
“As a director, I’ve always thought great theater is a transformative tool,” Con says. “The Drawer Boy is very much like that. If we have to end, I’m glad we’re ending with this one.”
The Drawer Boy runs Fri & Sat 7:30pm and Sun 2pm at the Magic Circle Center, 8 el Caminito Rd, Carmel Valley. $22. 659-1108.Ends 9/26.