>>> Master Harold…And The Boys is masterful theatre

MASTER HAROLD...AND THE BOYS by Athol Fugard (Shaw Festival). At the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs to September 10. $25-$117..

MASTER HAROLD…AND THE BOYS by Athol Fugard (Shaw Festival). At the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs to September 10. $25-$117. 1-800-511-7429, shawfest.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN

South African playwright Athol Fugard is skilful at taking a specific everyday situation and turning it into a universal statement about the human condition.

Set in 1950 during apartheid, Master Harold… And The Boys takes place in a Port Elizabeth tearoom owned by the family of teen-aged Hally (James Daly), the titles Master Harold. Its employees, the worldly Sam (Andre Sills) and the less sophisticated Willie (Allan Louis), are Black servants who cared for Hally as he grew up.

Fugard builds the story by establishing a series of two- and three-hand relationships: the older men rehearsing for a ballroom dance competition, first by themselves and then with Hally Hally initially playful with Sam, who has been close to him over the years Hallys anger toward his abusive, unseen father and Sam as Hallys metaphoric parent.

The cast turns in fine work under director Philip Akin, the intimacy of the Court House Theatre bringing the audience right into the action. Daly alternates likeable boyishness and intellectual curiosity as Hally, who later slips into the role of offensive master, taking out his frustration with his father on Sam and Willie, only to fall into self-loathing when he realizes what hes done.

Sillss Sam shows a congenial deference but also occasional lip to the young man he allows Hally to talk about how hes educated Sam in academic matters but knows that its he who taught Hally humanity when, as a boy, Hally took refuge under his wing.

When Hally lashes out against the two Blacks using uncomfortable racist words and actions, Sams rage at his young charge begins as warning rather than action, though it soon escalates into an explosive verbal confrontation. A dangerous glint in his eye, Sills shifts from friendly to furious in an instant, and in his hands, that quiet anger is powerful.

Louiss Willie helps build the shows early comedy, later offering a restraining voice to the angry Sam.

All three actors give buoyancy to the plays two central images. One is ballroom dancing, in which joy and beauty are balanced against the participants careful avoidance of collisions.

The other, more memorable, is the kite that Sam helped build for Hally when he was a child. The moving vision of its freedom in the sky and the circumstances under which it was flown speak eloquently not only to this particular relationship between man and boy in a South African tearoom but also to that between the countrys Blacks and whites.

If you cant get down to the Shaw Festival to see the production, its being remounted in Toronto next month as part of Obsidian Theatres season.


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