Dramaworks' Master Harold Remains Incisive Look at Racism

Review

Dramaworks' Master Harold Remains Incisive Look at Racism

Apr 8 2012
Bill Hirschman | Florida Theater On Stage

The obscenity that was racism in South Africa in the mid 20th Century depicted in Master Harold...and the boys may be less virulent today, but Athol Fugard's 1982 play remains a gut punch of theater because the poison so clearly persists around us all with a dispiriting universality. ...the drama under William Hayes' direction surges powerfully toward an inexorably stunning and heartbreaking conclusion. Hayes, his cast and Fugard have invested this broad social tragedy with very specific human dimensions. The cost of racism is not some abstract ill here but a cancer that cripples friendships and, worse, the self-respect of characters we know intimately by the end of the play. ...The actors deftly deliver some of Fugard's most elegant yet accessible writing in this scene of mutual yearning for something finer in human interaction. ...Master Harold was Fugard's breakout play in the United States and while he allowed his scene-setting opening to go on and on, his humor and pathos are skillfully underscored by Hayes and the cast. ...McGuire wrenches the audience's compassion portraying the vise closing in on Hally as his mother tells him that his father is coming home, a move that will make his life miserable. And then you hear him nobly shielding his father by assuring that he is looking forward to seeing him... ...It is Bodie's performance under Hayes direction and speaking Fugard's words that gives the production its strong emotional core. The three ease us into the deepening realization that this seemingly happy-go-lucky man is not just innately intelligent but possesses an incisive understanding of and compassion for human frailty. It is Bodie's sadness at Hally's succumbing to such frailty that provides the last scenes with its emotional wallop. Seven has the thankless role of the ebullient simple soul Willie, but Seven is always present in the moment, always listening (which Willie has to do a lot) to his two friends carrying on about subjects he cannot follow. Seven gives Willie warm eyes, a generous smile and good heart without slipping into caricature. ...It's almost becoming standard to say it, but the visual and aural world created by Dramaworks' team is a marvel. Ron Burns' subtle lighting, Rich Szczublewski's soundscape and Michael Amico's uncannily photo-realistic recreation of the tea room on a dreary day with rain drizzling in the foliage outside. His attention to detail is stunning down to what looks like a vintage wooden jukebox and time-scarred walls. Dramaworks has richly earned its reputation as one of the finest purveyors of theater in the state, and expectations are raised with each production. Master Harold...and the boys remains a thought-provoking and passionate production of substance.