REVIEW: Master Harold and the Boys (Timeline Theatre)

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TimeLine Theatre presents:

‘Master Harold’ and the Boys

 

by Athol Fugard
directed by
Jonathan Wilson
through March 21st (more info)

Reviewed by Ian Epstein

‘Mastor Harold’ and the Boys leads an audience through what it feels like to be white or black, the owner’s son or the the owner’s servant, in the St. George’s Park Tea Room of Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1950 — a time shortly after South Africa officially fell under apartheid — and playwright Athol Fugard leads an audience through all of this in an hour and forty minutes with no intermission.  It’s intense.

mh2The story begins in set-designer Timothy Mann‘s brightly colored reconstruction of St. George Park Tea Room — an establishment that belonged to Athol Fugard’s parents as well as Hally’s.  It’s a small establishment in one of South Africa’s larger coastal cities that sits towards the end of the curve that bends the Atlantic Ocean out into the Indian Ocean.  Outside, it is wet and windy.  No kind of weather to fly a kite.

By day, Willie (Daniel Bryant) is a Tea Room employee.  By night, he trains so hard for the upcoming National Ballroom Dancing Competition that he beats his dance partner when she stumbles.  He easily tires of mopping and opts, instead, to take the mop in hand and set off across the Tea Room, twirling around tables to the practiced tempo of the Quickstep, imagining himself onto the winner’s podium of "a world without collisions."  The Quickstep is like a Foxtrot but faster, even without music; the fee to make the jukebox play is the same as the bus fare home. 

Willie stops and starts his Quickstep according to Sam’s (Alfred H. Wilson) interruptions and suggestions.  And Sam is a character full of both, and healthy doses of joke, poetry, and digression, too.  From the first moments of the play, Bryant and Wilson breathe life into the pair beautifully.  And they mill about the Tea Room getting everything in order with the familiarity and ease of two men who’ve worked in this Tea Room since before the audience got here and will remain long after they leave. 

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Enter a soaking wet Hally, short for Harold, (Nate Burger), the bosses’ boy.  He storms in from school and the rain.  He’s got homework that he shirks in favor of exchanges, arguments, saviors and heroes with Sam.  Hally champions Darwin and Tolstoy, Sam picks up Jesus.  They trade small talk, personal stories, and simple symbols as allegories for large swathes of South Africa — and as a tangled interracial pair, they themselves become symbolic of something South African and larger.   

When he’s enjoying himself, Hally seems to forget about race.  He pays close attention to the stories Sam tells.  But as soon as the phone rings with bad news about dad by way of mom at the Hospital, he reliably remembers who is what color, how cruelty inflicted makes him feel lifteMasterHarold_156d and how much work has to be done to maintain the Tea Room and just who the people are who should be doing it and aren’t.  So he stabs at Sam and Willie, though at Sam much more than Willie and as the play unfolds in real time and the calls come in from the Hospital and then from home, everything mounts to a desolate, piercing, acrid crescendo.

Through director Jonathan Wilson’s meticulous guidance, ‘Mastor Harold’ and the Boys combines brutal, sincere acting with understated production elements that evoke apartheid’s early days in a way that makes them feel chilling and here to stay for a while.  The costumes, lights, and the set are tremendously successful because they set the right tone for the play.  Because it takes place in real time, Jonathon Wilson’s decisions stress story, sound, and script over visuals and spectacles.  All of it comes together to make TimeLine Theater Company’s production a captivating, harrowing success.

Rating: ★★★½

 

Regular Run: Wednesdays at 7:30 pm (3/3, 3/10 and 3/17 only), Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 pm & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm.  Running time approximately 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission.

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  • Download the Master Harold… study guide
  • Download the Master Harold… lobby display
  • Post-show discussions (FREE) hosted by a TimeLine Company Member and featuring members of the production team and cast on Thursdays 1/28, 2/4 and 2/11; Sundays 2/14 and 2/21; and Wednesday 3/3.
  • Sunday Scholars Series (FREE) on 1/31, an hour-long post-show panel discussion featuring experts on the themes of the play. You do not need to see the performance on this day to attend the discussion.
  • More info at FugardChicago2010.com

REVIEW: Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape (Goodman Theatre)

Masterful production suffers from too large of performance space

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Goodman Theatre presents:

Hughie / Krapp’s Last Tape

by Samuel Beckett and Eugene O’Neill
directed by
Robert Falls and Jennifer Tarver
through February 28th (more info)

review by Barry Eitel

Hughie_06Hughie and Krapp’s Last Tape are the results of two Nobel Prize winning playwrights exploring the idea of loneliness. Both works dive headfirst into aching, despondent, cringe-worthy isolation—not sexy loneliness or quirky loneliness, but the brand of depressing loneliness caused by years of self-inflicted solitude. Samuel Beckett and Eugene O’Neill, neither of whom is known for their sunny view of life, are masters in illustrating this theme in their plays. Pairing up the American O’Neill and the Irish Beckett was a bold decision, but the Goodman’s choice to put these plays together makes a lot of sense. Especially when you add to the mix adept directors Robert Falls and Jennifer Tarver and have the two plays carried by one Brian Dennehy. The finished product steals the breath away from the audience by the end, like if we had just witnessed a star implode on itself.

Although both plays could conceivably be described as one-man shows, they are both actually powerful, two-person dialogues. Hughie takes place long after midnight in a fleabag hotel lobby. The hotel’s night clerk (Joe Grifasi) stands alone behind the counter. Enter the drunken Erie Smith (Dennehy). Although the conversation is decidedly one-sided, the night clerk’s presence is essential to Erie’s booze-fueled tirade. Krapp’s Last Tape is a one-person show, but the sole character, also soaking in alcohol, is still having a dialogue. Instead of chatting with another flesh and blood human, Krapp (Dennehy again) interacts with himself, 30 years earlier, through an ancient tape player. Having the characters discourse with someone does the opposite of brightening the situation; the exchanges highlight the fact that these characters are completely starved for an authentic human connection. These plays are definitely not for the easily disturbed. After viewing, some bourbon and Prozac might be necessary to help you fall asleep.

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Hughie, arguably the weaker of the two, is more plugged in to the real world. It’s fascinating to watch Dennehy rattle off stories of past friends, female conquests, and gambling victories. He mostly rambles about his only confidant in recent memory, the former night clerk, Hughie. Falls’ staging is brilliant. He is able to create viable stage pictures with only one moving actor, yet the production never feels unmotivated or scattershot. Grifasi is spot-on as the spaced-out clerk. Dennehy owns his role, layering bravado and self-assurance on top of Erie’s agonizing stabs at companionship.

Beckett is a much different writer than O’Neill, and requires a distinct approach in all aspects. Dennehy’s Krapp is a 180-turn from Erie. He’s a clown—a very lonely clown that let the opportunities of relationships slip by years ago. This production, directed by Canadian impKrapps_06ort Tarver, snaps together. Every second on stage is fraught with purpose. Dennehy’s dealings with a banana, his tape player, or his door are all significant. It also contains one of the most genius directing choices of this entire theatre season. Whenever Krapp leaves the main room to fetch a drink, he leaves the door open. The only movement on stage is the swinging light pull. There is something so Beckett, so existential, about that moment.

Hughie tends to drag a bit and the powerful silences of Krapp’s Last Tape are often interrupted by coughs and shifting, which is more of a comment on the audience than the production. The Albert stage seems a bit large for these plays. The size works for capturing the crushing, Atlas-scale solitude, but the anguished details are occasionally lost in the abyss. Still, the double-bill is remarkable. Nothing is overblown or glossed over; all aspects of both productions are painstakingly devised. Even the show is just over 90 minutes, you’ll have plenty of fodder for hours of therapy.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

 

The Design Team for Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape includes Eugene Lee (Sets), Patrick Clark (Costumes), Robert Thomson (Lights) and Richard Woodbury (Sound). Joseph Drummond is the Production Stage Manager, and T. Paul Lynch is the Stage Manager.  All photography by Liz Lauren.

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REVIEW: First Words (MPAACT Theatre)

Illuminating "First Words"

 

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MPAACT  presents:

First Words

 

by Aaron Carter
directed by Chuck Smith
through February 28th (more info)

Review by K.D. Hopkins

It may be incomprehensible for some to understand a parent’s pain and terror upon learning that something is not quite right with their child. It has been my experience in the African American community that disabilities were an insular subject. It was dealt with within the family and with the support of a tight knit neighborhood. There were no special schools or classes. It was often considered up to ‘the Lord’s will’ how someone with a disability coped in the world. MPAACT productions First Words is a lovingly crafted and honest look at autism and how a family dissolves under the pressures of reality and self-delusion.

Family Paul and Barbara are played as a normal and loving couple that has managed to coexist with their differences and the challenge of their autistic son Aiden. Paul carries religious wounds from a strict father and lives in fear of blasphemy lest he be punished. Andre Teamer plays the character of Paul. He projects a beautiful tension and frailty in his role as the father. Tina Marie Wright is a wonderful counterpoint as Barbara who is breaking under the strain of Aiden’s increasingly violent outbursts and no seeming way to get through to her son. Her performance is finely nuanced and subtle. Scott Baity Jr. plays the troubled and sometimes menacing Aiden with a coiled ferocity that was shocking and projected the helplessness of the autistic world.

The role of Diane, the facilitated communications expert, is played by Lauren Malara. Barbara’s character expects her to be an Ivy League White girl and is surprised when it is an Ivy League Black girl who walks in the door. Ms. Malara projects the epitome of fresh-faced enthusiasm. The character of Diane is an advocate of research and empirical evidence  – until she sees the flaws in her methods.

Chuck Smith, whose rendition of James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner” at the Goodman was brilliant, directs this play. It is everyday life in the African American community that has been for the most part remanded to literary interpretation. These are people that I have known and not a glossy film retelling for palatability’s sake. The direction is flowing and I loved the added dimension of the characters projected behind them as they spoke. It underscored what seems to be in an autistic person’s mind: so much stimuli and in so many forms that it cannot be sorted out to the point where a touch can be the breaking point.

The set dressing seems to have been taken from a home in Morgan or Maple Park on the south side of Chicago. The family pictures in color and sepia tone were a wonderful touch as was the glowing white Bible on its own shelf. Mr. Teamer is the props master for this production and I presume that his character of Paul fed into the prop selection.

Adian w light writer cropped Aaron Carter, the playwright for First Words, has an interesting lineage of Baptist preacher and Vaudeville according to his biography notes. He has taken the best of both and crafted a fine play. There is the high dudgeon of fiery Baptist preaching and the slight of hand in Vaudeville without falling into the grotesque. The most compelling scenes are between Ms. Wright and Mr. Baity. Barbara is driven to break the silence and she has nightmares in which Aiden speaks. It becomes the adage of be careful of what you ask for-surely you will get it.

There are no easy answers or resolution to the controversy of facilitated communication for autistic persons in First Words. It is a searing presentation of what happens to a family when faith is divided and trust is broken in pursuit of answers. It is about the perception of what the parental bond means to a God-fearing father and a self-professed heathen mother. The answers are locked inside Aiden’s head as well as his parent’s dreams. The final moment of the play drives the ‘not knowing’ home with one subtle gesture. This production is highly recommended

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

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First Words” runs Thursdays through Sundays January 28th through February 28th at The Greenhouse Theatre Center. 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue. The Box Office number is 773-404-7336. Parents take note: this play contains adult language and scenes of violence.