Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Palm Beach DramaWorks: "Master Harold" ...and the boys (4 reviews)

Palm Beach DramaWorks opened its production of Athol Fugard's "Master Harold" ...and the boys on April 6, 2012.
When a South African white boy and two black workers he has known all his life connect on one rainy day, their wide-ranging discussions illustrate all that unites us and the gulf that still divides us.
William Hayes directed a cast that featured  W. Paul Bodie, Jared McGuire, and Summer Hill Seven.

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach Arts Paper:
Revived by Palm Beach Dramaworks as the first of a projected annual exploration of works with racial themes, the play receives a taut, well-performed production under William Hayes’ understated direction.
As Sam, Paul Bodie is the solid center of the production, projecting dignity and strength in a soft-spoken manner that suggests awareness and acceptance of his place in society. But when provoked, Bodie shows a steely anger that is undeniable.

Jared McGuire (Hally) capably handles the substantial verbal demands of his role...  Summer Hill Seven draws the shortest leg of the performance triangle... but he radiates an authenticity that frequently draws attention to him.
Michael Amico’s tea room set is not the showiest design he has done for the new Don and Ann Brown Theatre, but it is another triumph of character-rich detail and atmosphere.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The obscenity that was racism in South Africa in the mid 20th Century depicted in Master Harold…and the boys may be less virulent today, but Athol Fugard’s 1982 play remains a gut punch of theater because the poison so clearly persists around us all with a dispiriting universality.

Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production starts sluggishly, absent the whiff of apartheid needed to fuel dramatic tension. But once the plot takes its crucial left turn, the drama under William Hayes’ direction surges powerfully toward an inexorably stunning and heartbreaking conclusion.
The production only has two shortcomings. The minor one is that while the accents are admirably authentic sounding to a North American’s ear, some of the verbiage gets lost in the enunciation.

More crucial is what’s missing in the early scenes. Two facets must be clear without it ever being said: Hally has a deep affection for Sam and Willie that goes beyond companionship. Second, Hally must exude being so deeply infected with the false entitlement of white superiority that he doesn’t even know he harbors it... McGuire doesn’t that bring any of that in the door with him.

But McGuire redeems himself in his anguished conversations on the phone with his mother and father...
It is Bodie’s performance under Hayes direction and speaking Fugard’s words that gives the production its strong emotional core... 
Seven has the thankless role of the ebullient simple soul Willie, but Seven is always present in the moment, always listening... Seven gives Willie warm eyes, a generous smile and good heart without slipping into caricature.
Dramaworks has richly earned its reputation as one of the finest purveyors of theater in the state, and expectations are raised with each production. Master Harold…and the boys remains a thought-provoking and passionate production of substance.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
...even though Master Harold is set in 1950, just two years after apartheid laws were enacted, the play is as powerfully resonant as ever.
As staged by artistic director William Hayes on Michael Amico’s beautifully quaint set... this Master Harold doesn’t ever shrink from the realities outside the tea room door... McGuire fully inhabits Hally’s pain and cruelty, resisting the impulse to soften the character early on. So when he turns on Sam, his actions seem inevitable, not that the result is any less disturbing.

Seven’s Willie seems deceptively sweet, benign and often comical, until he matter-of-factly reveals his repeated pattern of physical abuse. Then that sunny smile feels a little creepy.
The heart and soul of Master Harold…and the boys is Sam, embodied for the third time by Bodie, who most recently played the role at GableStage in 2004. Honed over time, Bodie’s performance is exquisitely detailed, a mixture of warmth, dignity, hurt, outrage and mature compassion. Bodie was nominated for a best actor Carbonell Award for the 2004 performance, and his engrossing work here is every bit as fine.
John Thomason reviewed for The Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
In light of the tragic recent events in Sanford, it seems like the appropriate time for a play about racism — especially the insidious kind that manifests itself when "provoked."
McGuire, in his South Florida acting debut, is a kinetic presence from his first entrance; his flawless execution of a conflicted character is a joy to watch.
Séven is fine as the slow-witted Willie, a shoegazing role that operates mostly on the play's periphery.
...Bodie, an underused local actor, brings a studied grace and a careful, restrained consideration to the role of Sam.
Special praise must be reserved for Dramaworks' indefatigable design team, going the extra mile with a layered set that presents, with uncanny realism, rain pattering down on the panes and foliage placed outside the glass doors of the tearoom.
...despite all of this and despite the timeliness of the subject matter, there's something inherently unsatisfying about Master Harold. Fugard is a didactic writer, interested in civics lessons as much as great drama, and the elliptical nature of the play allows for few thrilling moments. Portions of it sag like an overused mattress, a chore for even great directors like Bill Hayes to overcome. Dramaworks' Master Harold can feel a bit like eating your veggies, but my — what gloriously arranged veggies they are.
"Master Harold" ...and the boys plays at Palm Beach DramaWorks through April 29, 2012.

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