MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS
MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS
Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Richard Harder and the Off Broadway West Theatre Company have qualitatively ratcheted the San Francisco theater experience several notches closer to Plato’s world of ideals.
MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS is written by Athol Fugard; a South Afrikaner who is probably best known for his plays A LESSON FROM ALOES and THE BLOOD KNOT.
Fugard’s novel TSOTSI, rewritten as a screenplay, won an Academy-Award in 2005.
As any aficionado of theatre will tell you, it is not sufficient to pull a world class script off the shelf and hope that it will stand up on its own two overleafs.
As a theatre critic who has seen MASTER HAROLD in venues from London to Norfolk this production runs ahead of the pack like Sea Biscuit on the final turn.
Set in the white minority government mandated insanity of Apartheid of the 1950s, the play details how government sanctioned segregation wades into the psyches of its constituents.
Just as Jews garner international opprobrium for settling on the West Bank, blacks were precluded from occupying designated sections of Johannesburg and South Africa.
While Martin Luther King Junior had a vision for the planet, the two black servants; Willie and Sam (played superbly by Anthony Rollins-Mullens and LaMont Ridgell) have a vision for South Africa.
Their vision manifests itself in a metaphor: ballroom dancing; partners gliding in harmony across the floor never colliding or clashing with other partners; everyone enjoying the rich music of life.
The vision is shattered by the brutal reality personified by Hally; an Afrikaner whose family essentially owns Sam and Willie as well as the tea room where they work.
Ominously, the story unfolds during a thunderstorm and presaging a fundamental clash between Master Harold and the Boys.
To Fugard’s credit the audience cannot dismiss the anxious apprehension that every ounce of the dialogue is inexorably moving the action closer to the precipice and tragic cataclysm intrinsic to Apartheid.
The fine seamless acting of Rollins-Mullens, LaMont Ridgell and Adam Simpson rolls like the thunder, lubricating the slippery slope on which characters stand.
The camaraderie of the boss’s son and the employees, blacks and whites, is tenuous at best; it is held together more by what is left unsaid than by what is said.
What is left unsaid is the epic social injustice of Apartheid.
Sitting in the audience, one gets the feeling that once the play gets started nothing can stop the action from unfolding—neither black-outs, earthquakes nor sovereign defaults.
This is Star Treks’ the tractor beam.
There is not a better show is the bay area; don’t miss it.
For tickets call 800)838-3006 or www.offbroadwaywest.org.