MONDAY MATINEE: Master Harold and the Boys

Originally posted at SappyCritic.com:

There are times when you just sit in the quiet of the freshly dimmed theatre lights and wonder what just happened to you. Those times are rare, but when they do happen, its best to savor the moment. You don’t want to let go of that raw, almost startling effect caused by a brilliant scene, play, or actor. “Master Harold and the Boys” has all three and it took all of us at the preview a few moments to pause and reflect on things before applauding.  I think we were all moved.

The play is a one act, 105 minute master class in script writing. Athol Fugard, the playwright, has crafted a masterpiece of drama in which very little action occurs. Instead, the mastery is in the dialogue and the emotion; he understands the power that relationships can have and made the ones in this work jump off the page with his words.  There is exposition but it works in tandem and sometimes takes a backseat to the relationships being developed by the dialogue.  It all works very well.

I have to confess that for the first twenty five minutes, I wasn’t sure I was going to like where this ended up going. The script takes its time to dig in but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Taking time to set up the relationships between characters and set the tone is important and while it requires some patience, the beautiful acting of the three performers in this show made it easy to wait and watch and see.

Master Harold, also called “Hally” in this play, is a young white school-aged teenager whose mother employes two black servants, Willie and Sam, in South Africa in 1950. Ray Zupp, one of the most charismatic, emotive, and talented young actors in the Dayton theater scene is Hally. Franklin Johnson bravely plays “Sam,” the more assertive and smarter of the two “boys” while Robert Wayne Waldron plays “Willie,” the more child-like and comic foil of the two. But make no mistake about it, this is by no means a comedy.

There are some humorous moments, thankfully, but the meat of this show rests in the hands of Zupp and Johnson’s dramatic climax in which both actors display bravery and vulnerability that is rare in traditional community theater. I have to think that the direction of Matthew Smith was vitally important in allowing these actors in feeling safe enough to explore the characters to the emotional depths in which they did. And while Zupp and Johnson have the best lines, Waldron’s naivety and wide-eyed performance was just as good – and just as important. The fact that the actors were able to maintain their accents consistently throughout the show without losing my attention or distracting me with them is outstanding.  This is a terrific company and deserves a large audience.

The themes are the kind of things I as a professional counselor hear in my office every day.  There was a specific moment (and I don’t want to ruin it for you so I’ll be generic) in which I felt an urge to jump out of my seat and on to the stage to intervene.  That is acting, folks.  They drew me in and made me forget that it was a show.

I’m telling you that if you want to see a beautifully written, marvelously acted, and superiorly produced and directed work this weekend, “Master Harold and the Boys” should be a priority. Plus, all the proceeds go to the Dayton Playhouse, which deserves all the funding it can get.  Tickets are available for $10 and it is general seating.  This is not a play for children as there are very adult themes, imagery, and language included.  I dare you to go and not be moved.

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