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Sam (Conrad Coates) and Hally (Julian DeZotti)
Sam (Conrad Coates) and Hally (Julian DeZotti)

Theatre Review: "'Master Harold' ... & the Boys" at the Firehall, 1000 Islands Playhouse

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"Master Harold"... & the Boys is running in the Firehall at the 1000 Islands Playhouse through August 21. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at a recent performance and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

"'Master Harold' . . & The Boys" by South African playwright Athol Fugard first opened at Yale Repertory in early 1982. It then moved to Broadway where it won the 1983 Drama Desk and Critic's Circle Awards for best play. The most autobiographical of Fugard's plays, it's set in 1950 in South Africa during apartheid. Considered by many to be Fugard's masterpiece, it examines the human cost of becoming a man--a

Seventeen year-old Hally, a typical egocentric teenager, stops in at his mother's tearoom on his way home from school. Sam and Willie, who work there, are practicing for a ballroom dancing contest. We see his delight in "educating" Sam. We learn about his dysfunctional family and the part that Sam has played in his life. In his attempt to become a man, Hally begins to buy in to the racist culture of belittlement.

For this production the Firehall is set up in the round. Shawn Kerwin's set consists of a diamond patterned linoleum floor, tearoom tables and chairs and a bright jukebox. It works very well for the play and her costumes are also good.

Dan Rider's sound is effective, especially the rain and thunderstorm. As for lighting, Adair Redish has done a fine job. I loved the tiny Japanese lanterns in the final scene.

Ryan Allen is very good as the sometimes child-like Willie and has a terrific singing voice. I wasn't surprised to read that he's a member of the International Tenors. He creates a believable character and is delightful as the contest audience.

As Hally, Julian DeZotti gets stronger as the play moves along. Initially he seems too hyper and more like 13 than 17, but as the play turns more serious he relaxes. The character becomes more three-dimensional and he's very good in the final scenes.

Conrad Coates is wonderful as the complex Sam. Sam's a natural teacher of both dancing and life lessons. An obviously intelligent man, he's trapped by the culture of the times. His "Master Harold" speech is both dignified and heartbreaking.

Eric Armstrong has done a nice job with the dialects and choreographer Joseph Riha has done an equally good job on the ballroom sequences.

Director Nigel Shawn Williams, whose work I admired in "The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl," has staged the play extremely well. Both the actors and audience are comfortable with the play in the round. The intimacy of the Firehall allows us to become truly involved with these characters.

This is a terrific play that has become a true classic. Although it's set in a very specific time and place, its message is timeless and universal. If you've never seen it, this is a good opportunity to make its acquaintance.

My new rating system is becoming complicated, as it involves multiplying and dividing fractions. I may have to move to decimals. In any case, on a scale of one to five, the material gets a five while the Firehall production of "'Master Harold'. . . & The Boys" gets four and one third for an approximate average of four and five-eighths dalmations.

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