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A CurtainUp Review
aster Harold and the boys

By Jenny Sandman

`There's no collisions out there. Nobody trips or stumbles or bumps into anybody else. `To be one of those finalists on that dance floor is like. . .  being in a dream about a world in which accidents don't happen. --- Sam
Athol Fugard is one of the best playwrights of the late twentieth century, and Master Harold. . .and the Boys is commonly regarded as something of a classic. A scathing indictment of apartheid, it premiered in 1982, and opened audiences' eyes to the problems in South Africa. It also opened a few doors in Hollywood for one of its young cast members, Danny Glover, who was making his debut as Willie, the younger of two men working in St. George's Park Tea Room. Now, more than twenty years later, apartheid is (technically) a thing of the past, but the play still speaks to the planet's many racial injustices, and is as timely as ever. Danny Glover has returned to Master Harold, albeit as Willie's older co-worker, Sam.

In another turnaround, Lonny Price, who played Hally, the "Boys'" name for "Master Harold", now directs. He does so astutely and sympathetically. That leaves two Broadway newcomers, Michael Boatman and Christopher Denham to take over Glover and Price's former roles, Boatman as Willy and Denham as the restaurant owner's teenaged son Hally.

The story plays out over one afternoon in the restaurant where Hally seeks them out for the warmth and comfort missing from his home life with an alcoholic father. As the boy does his homework and the men practice their ballroom dancing (Sam is an award-winning dance, and Willie aspires to win his own award at an upcoming dancing competition), we become attuned to the nuances of relationships, especially between Sam and Hally.

Many of Hally's fondest childhood memories involve Sam and Willie. One especially meaningful memory entails Sam's buildomg a kite for a very young Hally. It serves as metaphor for joy and freedom and also an omen of the racial divide since Sam must break the arpatheid laws to sit on the bench to watch it soar.

Hally is now a precocious teenager who teases Sam, calling him a "bigot" for not believing in Darwinism. "It's the likes of you that kept the Inquisition going," he rants. He also scorns Sam's one true passion, ballroom dancing, as"mentally retarded," a "primitive" pastime of the "natives". He tries to "reform" Sam's intellect by teaching him about geography and math and Tolstoy.

Sam, an intelligent if uneducated man, patiently puts up with Hally's condescension. Eventually, though, the tension about his sick, alcoholic father's premature dismissal from his latest hospital stay, turns the easy bantering into an ugly scene. Hally's ingrained racism forces itself to the surface, as he must also confront his feelings for his father. In a heartbreaking final scene, he lashes out, misdirecting all his shame and rage at Sam. Only too late does he realize he's gone too far, as Sam tells him, "You're ashamed of so much. Now that's going to include yourself."

Glover returns as Sam, the wisest and most likeable character. His age fits him and the role. With his weathered affability is the perfect counterpoint to Hally's prickly, smarmy youth. Hally, as played by Christopher Denham, is chilling in his insolence; he would almost steal the show, were it not for his dreadful attempt at a South African accent. All the actors would do better not to struggle with the accent and instead let the excellent dialogue set the scene. The accents aside, the whole cast is well chosen and works together with a grace and ease that belies the tense climax.

John Lee Beatty's set is simple and eloquent; the café is clean and careworn, with muted colors and soft lighting. However, the pouring rain was distracting (and, I imagine, an unnecessary expense). It's enough for us to hear the rain. We don't need to see it gushing against the café window as well.

The remaking of previous Broadway plays is a curious phenomenon. Certainly Fugard is worthy of his success, and this production is a good one. But there are other plays and playwrights deserving of critical attention, even in (especially in?) the current economy. It would be nice to see Danny Glover turn his considerable talents to an original work, something he's not been in before. Perhaps this production will propel its two younger stars to the same sort of success; more likely it will propel the Schubert Organization to remount yet more classics. Except for the fact that this emphasizes the dirth of new plays, this isn't a bad thing when it brings back a good play and cast like this one which makes for a solid, engrossing, and intellectually stimulating, making it a Broadway rarity.

Editor's Note: As Jenny's companion at the Royale, I didn't find the rain distracting but a rather apt echo of the rain outside the theater. Having seen the play before, I was pleased to have it hold up so well. While revivals like this and Long Days Journey Into Night are a chance for young audiences to see a play they've only heard about or studied in school first hand, it would be ideal if they could more often enjoy the thrill of discovering a new classic in the making on as well as Off-Broadway.

MASTER HAROLD. . .  and the boys
Written by Athol Fugard
Directed by Lonny Price
Cast: Danny Glover stars as Sam, Michael Boatman as Willie and Christopher Denham as Hally. (The original 1982 Broadway production featured Danny Glover as Willie and Lonny Price as Hally)
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: Brian Ronan Dance Consultant: Melinda Roy
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, without intermission
Royale, 242 W. 45th St, (Broadway/8th Av), 239 - 6200,
Tues through Sat @ 8PM, Wed, Sat & Sun @ 2PM--$76.25 & $51.25, (Wed @ 2PM $61.25 & $46.25
From 5//06/03;opening 6/01/03.
Reviewed by Jenny Sandmanr based on June 5th performance

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