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The Dream Team

The director and cast of Barksdale's "The Drawer Boy" discuss humor, intimidation and life as a dancing bear.


To learn more, Style convened the director and cast of the Barksdale production for a roundtable discussion. Director Jack Welsh — a bit of a legend on the local scene, having taught theater at University of Richmond for 35 years — assembled a "dream team" cast: Joe Inscoe, a veteran of numerous films (this fall's "The New World," "Nell") and TV shows; David Bridgewater, the "go-to" guy for meaty roles in high-profile productions (like last year's "Cyrano de Bergerac"); and rising star Brett Ambler (the Cat in the Hat in Theatre IV's '05 spring musical, "Seussical").

Style: So where does the humor come from in "The Drawer Boy"? Why is this play funny?

Joe Inscoe: There's the culture clash, the outsider coming into an unknown situation. Then there's [David's brain-damaged] character, Angus — there's the clash of his state of mind and that of the other two characters.

Jack Welsh: It's like what you see on the comic pages sometimes, with characters that are children. They say the most truthful things or ask the most truthful questions. Because of where they're coming from, it's funny. They aren't like Neil Simon laugh lines, but they're funny.

Inscoe: The play doesn't read with the comic flavor that comes across onstage. It's a matter of what the actors are doing with the situations. I know some of my lines are very funny, but there's absolutely nothing in the text to suggest it; it's only in the circumstance.

How did this production come together?

Welsh: I heard of this play from the husband of a friend of mine. It's the type of play that grabs me because it's a disconcerting blend of comedy and sentiment. I usually like it when I'm laughing and crying at the same time; that's a good play for me. I called [Barksdale Theatre's Artistic Director] Bruce Miller and said, I think you ought to look at this play. I had some ideas of who I wanted [in the two principal roles], but Barksdale said, Well, we don't know if we can get them.

Then there's this third role for a young actor. And they said, We can find one of them — they're a dime a dozen. [Laughter] This is not true: good actors are not a dime a dozen.

Brett Ambler: Yeah, they couldn't even find one for this show. [Laughter]

Brett, as the young "up-and-comer," is there fear involved coming into a project like this?

Ambler: Definitely. Every time I start a new show, I remember that I have no idea what I'm doing. Usually, that's fine, but coming in and working with these three guys who have been doing this for a while, it's a little intimidating. It adds to the challenge. You can't be wishy-washy. You can't be timid.

David Bridgewater: You sure hide it very well. You don't come across intimidated or hesitant at all.

Ambler: Well, I'm not scared of screwing up yet, because I haven't made any choices yet.

Two of these characters seem like pretty simple country folk, but there's obviously more to them. How do you avoid making them caricatures?

Bridgewater: I feel like I'm struggling with that already.

Inscoe: Well, your character has the greatest potential for coming across as cliché. It's like you've said, your character is similar to Lenny in "Of Mice and Men," in his simpleminded quality.

Bridgewater: Right, so when you have a character that rings similar to one you've played in the past, I kind of go, OK, I know what's similar; what I need to focus on is what's different. And the only reason I'm not completely freaking out — though I'm on the verge of it — is because I've got a lot of faith in the people who are going to be doing this with me.

Welsh: He's always on the verge. ... All three of these guys are perfectionists. It's a blessing and a curse.

Bridgewater: One reason I'm involved with this project: I get really bored if I'm not scared out of my head. And this piece scares me to pieces. It's a stretch for me in a lot of ways, and it's a small cast and if anyone screws up, it's going to be one of the three of us.

Inscoe: We can always just blame it on Jack. [Laughter.]

There are a lot of themes involving trust in this play.

Bridgewater: Yes, it's interesting that Brett is kind of the new guy, because I first met Joe in 1980, so we have a history. But we don't have a history with Brett, which is kind of a mirror image of what's going on in the play.

Inscoe: And we're going to trip him up at every opportunity. [Laughter]

Bridgewater: There's also this beautiful theme of the power of theater. What [Brett's character] brings to our characters by his art changes their lives. And so often as a professional actor, you think, God, I am just a damn dancing bear. …

Ambler: Just a monkey with cymbals.

Bridgewater: Exactly. But there are those rare moments in a show or a film when someone will come up to you and say, "This really affected me deeply." I think that's a huge underlying theme of this show: that theater, when it's done well, can do much more than entertain. S

"The Drawer Boy" runs at Barksdale Theatre Sept. 23 to Nov. 6. Call 282-2620 for details.

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