“Master Harold”…and the boys at Bay Theatre Company by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins

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“Master Harold” …and the boys is the potential life-changing, pulse racing drama playing in Annapolis, MD., that marks the 11th season opener for Bay Theatre Company. The Company’s mission is to produce theater that is relevant, diverse and thought provoking, and here they succeed in a big way. This timely, compelling play has as many layers as it does emotions, and is must-see theater you don’t want to miss.

(L to R) Cast – Sean McComas (Hally), Baakari Wilder (Willie), and Michael Anthony Williams (Sam) in Bay Theatre Company’s season opener – “Mr Harold” and the boys. Photo courtesy of Bay Theatre Company.

Playwright Athol Fugard’s stunning masterwork “Master Harold” …and the boys, written in 1982, and initially banned in South Africa, is both an example and a metaphor for how institutionalized racism and the cycle of abuse can become engaged and absorbed by those who live under it. This is a coming of age tale where a young student moves from the naive, innocence of childhood to the fear and insecurity of venomous bigotry.

But this play is more than a simple polemic against the policy of Apartheid.

A father is abusive to his son. The son abuses the servants. The servant is abusive to his girlfriend. This is a cycle of abuse. This is a play about human relationships that are put to the test by personal pressures and societal forces, and a powerful tool to teach the world about Apartheid, racism, and the effects of abuse on cycles of generations.

Here, the political is personal.

While not a memoir, “Master Harold”…and the boys is quite autobiographical in many of the events that take place in the play. Fugard chronicles an amazing lesson from his own childhood memory, a moment of cruelty that according to the Program’s note from the director, has haunted Fugard for years. Fugard said that the play “deals with one specific moment which I’m trying to exorcise out of my soul…I wrote [this play], I suppose at one level, in an attempt to understand how and why I am the man that I am.”

Richard Pilcher elegantly directs the one act “Master Harold”…and the boys and this three character, 90 minute uninterrupted production is perfectly paced. His sure hand balances the loyalty of friendship, love, and the beauty of ballroom dance, building gradually with moments of humor and quiet pathos, until it reaches a shattering series of gut wrenching, multi-dimensional, intimate moments. Nothing is overdone.

The simplicity of the set design (Ken Sheats) and blocking is complex in it’s attention to detail and emotional honesty. There’s not one false move.

The setting of an ordinary, rainy afternoon in a Port Elizabeth, South Africa cafe in 1950, turns into a character revealing and life-changing experience for young, white Harold (“Hally”) and his cherished black servants.  Although Hally appears to have a warm, friendly relationship, he’s imperious with father-like figure Sam and Willie, the two waiters who work at his parents’ St. George’s Park Tea Room. Living under Apartheid, he is a product of the time. The schoolboy “Master Harold” takes his racial superiority as a privilege that he’s casually thought little.  Scratch the surface, and racism is not far beneath, leading to the turning point of Fugard’s personal story and Hally’s dramatic shift in attitude toward the black men he’s known all his life.

The three actors in this production not only have command of their technique and an easy onstage chemistry, they have fine-tuned the nuances and subtleties of the text.

The Cast of “Master Harold” and the boys – (L to R) Sean McComas (Hally), Baakari Wilder (Willie), and Michael Anthony Williams (Sam). Photo courtesy of Bay Theatre Company.

Managing the South African accent admirably, Sean McComas (Hally) holds his own in a demanding role, and gives an excellent effort in creating a complex, conflicted teenager struggling with a difficult home life and a hospitalized, alcoholic father. You feel endearment towards Hally one moment, empathy in another, and then despise his actions in the next. McComas’ delivery of Hally is genuine. There are times when his emotions are restrained, but his intentions and the interaction with his fellow actors are not. Hally is quickly growing up and must learn to be a man. For years, he has depended on Sam, the elder waiter for guidance. The question is,”What kind of man will he choose to be given the circumstances of the racist political climate he lives?

The stage presence of Michael Anthony Williams is undeniable. His talent is unmistakable. The honesty and humanity he brings to the role of Sam are powerful and poetic – a study in quiet dignity and wisdom. His intuitive performance is a sensational model of subtlety and realism. Incorporating genteel charm and grace, wit, grief, rage, and mercy, Williams creates a believable three-dimensional character as Sam who possesses a self-worth no impudent adolescent can diminish.  The control, technical skill, and the interior emotional journey Williams shares with the audience is a gift.

Baakarie Wilder’s (Willie) performance not only made me think, it made me feel. Willie is less sophisticated than Sam and is full of good cheer, but he’s temperamental. This is a man whose lighthearted spirit masks a life of servitude and racial abuse; and who takes out his sense of inferiority and frustrations by beating (“giving a hiding”) on his dance partner/girlfriend. With fewer lines than the other two characters, Willie must busy himself scrubbing the floor, filling salt shakers and tidying the Tea Room. Wilder fills every moment. He is a skilled, active listener and observer, and is superb at playing simplicity without ever being condescending to the character. Watch how his body tightens when the phone rings. His anguished, visceral reaction in the racked closing minutes is heartbreaking. A moan has never ached such depth. Wilder is riveting. I felt so much compassion and a flood of emotions in that moment – I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

There are universal lessons of humanity to be learned in this poignant production – not only by Hally, but by the audience as well. Apartheid in South Africa is a thing of the past, as is legally sanctioned racial segregation in the United States. Racism and the cycle of violence, however still exist, and is alive nearly everywhere in the world. Athol Fugard’s, “Master Harold” …and the boys, is a striking reminder of where we have been, serves as an reality check for where we are now,  and provides a sight line of where hope, vision, and progress can carry a nation…and how much still needs to be done for full equality of all citizens to become the law of every land.

“A world without collisions.”

The Bay Theatre Company in Annapolis, MD. opens it’s 11th season with Arthol Fugard’s “Master Harold” and the boys . (L to R) Cast – Michael Anthony Williams (Sam), Baakari Wilder (Willie), and Sean McComas (Hally). Photo courtesy of Bay Theatre Company.

Even if you have seen “Master Harold”…and the boys before – you’ll want to see the perfection, passion, and intellectual fervor Bay Theatre Company’s production brings.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

“Master Harold”…and the boys plays through November 11, 2012 on Thursday thru Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM at Bay Theatre Company – 275 West Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at To order tickets call (877) 503-9463 or go purchase them online.

 

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - sydneychanele@gmail.com [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]