Master Harold...and the Boys
by Athol Fugard (1982)
directed by Shaun T. Evans
co-produced by Living Light Theatre Company
By: Carolyn Passeneau “Powerful Play! Powerful Performances! Powerful Theatre!”
In the post-show talkback, actors Austyn Myers, Shaun Evans, and Vimel Sephus fielded questions from a small, but highly appreciative audience, a number of whom were still in tears and possibly also in wonderment, as was I, of how the initially slow-moving script had touched them so deeply. Was it the shock of South African apartheid rearing its ugly head through the voice of confused youth (Austyn Myers as Hally), who did not in the moment know how to escape his tortured family life and its psychological toll on him? Or, the humiliation of a black surrogate father-figure (Shaun Evans as Sam) being scorned by the confused youth -- feeling himself a failure? Yet again, was it the submissive acceptance of a black servant (Vimel Sephus as Willie) who knew his place, but beat his dance partners -- a man who faces his own bigotry as he watches friendship unravel?
Master Harold...and the boys seems a simple play if one only thinks of the events and attitudes in the political atmosphere of apartheid. The characters in Master Harold... as written by a man who knew them all personally, however, and as portrayed so beautifully by this cast opens thought that reaches beyond the political scene to the core of human relationships, how they evolve and how frail they can be at a moment in time.
Hally, a 17-year-old youth, having taken on the parental role in relationship to his parents -- one a debilitating drunk and the other a cloying ploy to the alcoholic -- does not yet have the emotional maturity to sustain his footing within the familial relationships and strikes out at the one to whom he is closest, feeling the guilt and shame of the closeness he shares with his surrogate father, Sam. In essence, he feels he "betrays" his father by loving his surrogate father AND is further confused by his responsibility to manage the tea house and its employees in the absence of responsible parents. Sam, a mature man, does know this about the youth and, though he speaks a harsh ultimatum to Hally, Sam does offer a way back from the relational break-down by suggesting they find a bonding event, like kite-flying to begin to heal the wounds. This is where the play ends. Considering that Athol Fugard was, in reality, only 14-years old when these events occurred in his life, and he waited until he was 50 before actually writing the play to help assuage his feelings of guilt, I would hope that Mr. Fugard has learned to be gentle and understanding of that 14-year old boy -- a time of additional hormonal pressure even more prevalent than with a 17-year old character!
Hally: Austyn Myers
Sam: Shaun T. Evans
Willie: Vimel Sephus
Director: Shaun T. Evans
Set: George Gonzalez
Costume: Beth Kincaid Connelly
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