Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: “Master Harold”… and the Boys

Gallery – Goethe Institut                                                             sixteen

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 13th at 3:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 20th at 12:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 24th at 9:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 27th at 12:00 p.m.

They say: Set during South Africa's apartheid era, young Hally spends his afternoon with his friends: two black waiters named Sam and Willy. When Hally receives a phone call it puts the father/ son relationship of Sam and Hally to the test.

Sophia's take: Of all the myriad human emotions, shame might be the hardest for an actor to portray onstage. After all, what recognizable behavior is indicative of shame? With anger one can always try yelling. With sorrow, a few tears might do the trick. But where does shame live in the body? You can't just cower, as you might in order to embody fear. And of course, in life people do everything in their power to conceal shame. An actor must do the same by allowing the feeling to live underneath the anger, sorrow and fear that shame begets. I suspect that nothing short of truly feeling deeply ashamed, will allow an actor to give that same feeling to their audience.

Managing this enormously difficult task is what playwright Athol Fugard requires of his actors. The Rude Mechanicals embrace the challenge, and sometimes come close to pulling it off. There are some moving moments. But ultimately the show falls short of being a fully realized, emotionally charged portrayal of the corrosive effect of racial intolerance on interracial friendships.

Born in South Africa in 1932, Fugard is most famous for works, including "Master Harold"... and the Boys, which condemn apartheid. Hally, or Harold, is a young white man, the son of the owners of a tearoom in Port Elizabeth. Sam, an employee at the tearoom, has acted as a father-figure to Hally. Hally shares an important friendship with Willie, too. But Hally's emotional equilibrium is founded on his ill father's absence. When he learns that his father will be returning home from a long stay in hospital, he immediately begins grasping at ways to regain a sense of power. In so doing, he pushes the limits of what Sam can forgive.

When director Fred Franklin allows Fugard's writing to be the real star, the production works. When the play debuted in 1982 it won the Drama Desk award and was nominated for Tony. A staged reading would probably be worth $17. Franklin keeps the set and costumes simple so as not to distract from the complexity of the story.

As Sam, Marcus Salley, makes some interesting and counterintuitive choices. He is a fun actor to watch. He plays Sam with a joie de vivre that belies the character's inner turmoil. When pain of his conflict with Hally comes roaring out, it makes for the show's most effective moments.

Willie's role is mostly to serve as a witness to the power struggle between Hally and Sam. A vain actor who tried to make the scenes about Willie would disrupt the balance of Fugard's script. Fortunately, Roody Labaze is a selfless actor who is willing to hold himself back until the moment when Willie finally steps into the fray.

Matt Zimmerman, who plays Hally, has an incredibly difficult role. Hally vacillates between speaking in his authentic voice, and spewing words he learned from his father, the unseen character who has bequeathed to his son an inheritance of bitterness and bigotry. Zimmerman is a young actor. The ability to portray his character's despai eludes him- for now. I'm glad Zimmerman is out there learning and experimenting. That's what festivals like the Capital Fringe are for. When his experience and training catch up with his bravery, he will become a very exciting actor to watch.

"Master Harold" ... and the Boys is a portrait of how an abhorrent social structure corrupts the connection of two souls who care deeply for one another. If Fugard's themes interest you, this production will be worth your time. After all, this is live theatre and each performance is different. An actor's ability to connect to his character can deepen from one evening to he next. Just because the actors didn't reach the emotional catharsis on opening night doesn't mean they won't in the performances to come.

See it if: You care about social justice; you are a father, a son, or know any men who are one of these things.

Skip it if: You're prowling Capital fringe for easygoing, comedic, unchallenging fare.

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