Top Drawer 

Barksdale's season starts with a rustic and resonant comic saga.

In getting to the answers, we discover three compelling characters — and director Jack Welsh has assembled three of the most talented Richmond-area actors to portray them. Bridgewater has the bravura role of Angus, and he brings all of his considerable talents to bear. His expert timing makes for sparkling comedy early on, but it is the wonder and pain he projects as bits of Angus' memory return that make his performance stunning. Ambler also delivers a fine performance, never allowing Miles to be reduced to a mere fop. He gives his character remarkable backbone as the situation around him unexpectedly redoubles in intensity.

But it's Inscoe who has the most difficult role, and he responds to the challenge with the most finely tuned and exquisitely nuanced work I've seen from him in his distinguished career. The veteran of numerous films and TV shows excels at portraying genial Southern gentleman types (he was Atticus Finch in last year's "To Kill a Mockingbird"), but his Morgan is all hard lines and sharp angles, with a hint of downright cruelty. As his tightly controlled world starts to unravel, however, Inscoe subtly reveals the vulnerability and affection that lie beneath the domineering fa‡ade.

Welsh guides his troupe with an assured hand and he wisely employs a dialect coach (Amanda Durst) so that all of the actors sport pitch-perfect Canadian accents that never waver. The show is generally up to the Barksdale's exceptional technical standards, though I might quibble with some of lighting designer Lynne Hartman's choices, her nights being perhaps a bit too bright. But the 1970s-era rustic set designed by Mercedes Schaum, complete with working plumbing, is a standout.

The opportunity to watch three exceptional actors at work may draw you to "The Drawer Boy." That the show is a surprisingly comic and complex masterwork makes for sweet icing on the cake. S

"The Drawer Boy" runs through Nov. 6 at the Barksdale Theatre, at The Shops at Willow Lawn, Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., with occasional matinees and additional performances. Tickets are $30-$36. Call 282-2620 for details.



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