`MASTER HAROLD'...and the boys fly high at the Phoenix Theatre. DAY OF ABSENCE and ALMOST NOTHING at the Lorraine Hansberry

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


The new location of the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre just off Union Square.

DAY OF ABSENCE and ALMOST NOTHING; Two one-act plays by Douglas Turner Ward and Marcos Barbosa (translated by Mark O’Thomas) both directed by Steven Anthony Jones. Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 450 Post St., San Francisco, CA. (415) 474-8800 www.lhtsf.org October 16 - November 20, 2011.

A few years ago the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre (LHT) on Sutter Street hosted, the leading African-American theatrical group in the Bay Area. Then disaster struck with the loss of their lease and the death, just months apart of their two founding leaders, Stanley E. Williams and Quentin Easter last year. They were nomads in the ensuing years, moving from space to space and sharing productions with other local organizations. Now for their 31st season they have acquired the re-furbished spacious Post Street Theatre, taken on the respected Steven Anthony Jones as their artistic director and have scheduled a four play season: Rejoice! (A world premiere musical) by Ron Stacker Thompson, 12/4/11 – 12/31/11; Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall, 2/5/12 – 3/18/12; and Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage, 4/1/12 – 5/12/12.

Artistic director Jones has elected to celebrate this new beginning honoring Douglas Turner Ward, the author of the 1965 Days of Absence, who was one of the leaders in the African-American theatre movement. Ward and others founded the groundbreaking Negro Ensemble Company in New York where Days of Absence had a long run despite the fact it was criticized for its construction as a white-faced minstrel show. Consider the concept of an all white-faced cast in an unnamed Southern town bemoaning the “absence” of all the negros (pronounced ne- gras with a broad Southern boy accent) from the town and they could not be found. The dependence on the lack of cheap labor for the smooth daily activity of the townsfolk is a scathing satire buffeted with slapstick humor and mime routines (a number of the cast has experience with the SF Mime troop). Each member of the cast plays multiple roles and they are often accompanied by the ear-piercing sounds of a disco player. Jones throws in immediacy by starting the show with recent radio news clips of the effect of Hispanics leaving Alabama caused by restrictive immigration laws. But there is a problem: the activity goes on for one hour and 30 minutes and becomes repetitious thus loosing its mordacious bite.

The tedium/hyperactivity of the first play is replaced by the tightly written and superbly acted Almost Nothing. Brazilian author Marcos Barbosa is obviously greatly influenced by Harold Pinter and uses sparse dialog with gut wrenching pauses giving full meaning to the adage silence speaks louder than words. This play that saw the light of day at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2004 also was part of the Lisbon production of At Play In Harold Pinter’s Field.

As the play unfolds many unknowns arise that are unanswered questions creating a mystery with unsettling twists and turns. The mystery is enhanced by David Molina’s sound design. An upscale couple Antonio (Rhonnie Washington) and Sara (seductive Kathryn Tkel) have just returned from an evening out and Antonio has killed, in ‘self defense’, a young boy who approached their car. But was it self defense? Days later the unnamed boy’s mother Vania (marvelous Wilma Bonet) knocks on the door seeking revenge or is it money for her silence? Antonio hires a private detective Cesar (beautifully underplayed by Rudy Guerreo) to learn more about Vania suggesting she might not be the boy’s mother. There is a problem as Cesar casually suggests it is “almost nothing.” However that requires an unspoken solution.

Rhonnie Washington gives an Emmy winner performance as a controlling individual in his married life and in his approach to Vania and Cesar and is temporarily upstaged by seductive Kathryn Tkel (dressed to the nines by Michelle Mulholland) and diminutive Wilma Bonet who holds center stage in her encounters with Antonio. Running time is a tense, engrossing 60 minutes that is perfect ending to LHT re-emergence in their new venue.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com