`MASTER HAROLD'...and the boys fly high at the Phoenix Theatre.

Upper (l -r):Anthony Rollins-Mullens as Willie, LaMont Ridgell as Sam.Adam Simpson as Hally
Lower (l -r): LaMont Ridgell as Sam, Adam Simpson as Hally in `MASTER HAROLD'...and the boys by Broadway West at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo credit Barbara Michelson-Harder

`MASTER HAROLD'...and the boys: Drama by Athol Fugard, directed by Richard Harder. Off Broadway West Theatre Company, The Phoenix Theatre, Suite 601, 414 Mason Street (between Geary and Post), San Francisco, CA. (800)838-3006 or www.offbroadwaywest.org.

October 15 – November 19, 2011

`MASTER HAROLD'...and the boys fly high at the Phoenix Theatre.

Athol Fugard’s stunning play ‘Master Harold. . . and the boys is solid proof of the truism that writers should write of what they have experienced. Fugard who is the premier playwright of South Africa is one of the early champions of dismantling apartheid and his plays were instrumental in aiding that goal to be reached. The basic story is autobiographical but the play’s construction brilliantly compresses the years of abuse into a taut 90 minutes of riveting theater by combining action in the present and poetical references to past events.

Written in 1982 the time is 1950 and place is a St. George’s Park Tearoom with a storm raging outside. Hallie (short for Harold) is a white teenager who is the son of the owners and two black waiters, Sam (LaMont Ridgell) and Willie (Anthony Rollins-Mullens) are long time employees with a congenial relationship masking underlying enmity. Although the major theme is the unjust separation of blacks and whites, there are layers of proximate inhumanity including parental abuse and man’s interpersonal humanity to man no matter whether white or black. The metaphor of kite flying and ballroom dancing are beautifully integrated into the story, as gentle Sam continues his raison d'être as protector and instructor of the internally damaged Hallie.

There is a joyful passage that defines the bond between a 10-year-old Hallie and Sam, his surrogate father, as they recollect the meaning of Sam’s homemade Kite for Hallie. Later, the full devastation of why Sam could not share that moment since Hallie was sitting on a “white only” bench claws at the heart.

The calm balanced relationship begins to disintegrate when Hallie learns that his one legged alcoholic father is to return home from the hospital. His rage is unsettling and only becomes explicable after a vitriolic outburst by Hallie almost pushes Sam to violence.

Lamont Ridgell is perfect for the role and his rise to anger is palpable as he abandons physicality and inflicts his wounds with words of understanding. Anthony Rollins-Mullins makes the most of his minor role and is a perfect foil as the subservient black who knows his place and always refers to “Master Harold.” Adam Simpson shows true hate in his externalizing his violent inner nature. It is so real, that one wonders if there ever will be reconciliation with Sam.

All this unfolds on an almost all white perfect tearoom set (Bert van Aalsburg) with symbolic black and white flooring that is surrounded on three sides in the minuscule Phoenix Theatre that allows the audience to be at an intimate 3 to 6 cubits from the action on stage. Highly recommended.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com