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

3 Responses

  1. […] Theater Center, and the theater’s first venture into South Africa, Master Harold…and the Boys (our review ★★★½), would lead to a business partnership with Remy Bumppo and Court Theatre for Fugard […]

  2. […] Harold…and the boys (put on TimeLine Theatre, the first of the Fugard Chicago productions – our review ★★★½), Sizwe drags us through the muck. The payoff is worth it, but it can be a tough […]

  3. […] (our review ★★★½) ‘Master Harold’…And The Boys – TimeLine Theatre (our review ★★★½) Tobacco Road – American Blues Theater   (our review […]

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