Theater Review: “MASTER HAROLD”…AND THE BOYS (Rubicon Theatre in Ventura)

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by Tony Frankel on February 22, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


During the last half-hour of the exquisitely produced “Master Harold”…and the boys, the Rubicon becomes theatre as a temple: a transcendental, spiritual, empowering and uplifting theatrical experience that only a playwriting craftsman like Athol Fugard could create. For what was up to then a lyrical examination of a white seventeen year-old school boy, and his friendship with the family’s two black servants during the Apartheid era, becomes an examination of shame, guilt, self-respect and the blurry borders of human relations. The rain that spatters against the window (on Thomas S. Giamario’s gorgeous set of a South African tea shop) becomes a synonym of the sadness we experience when a child who is full of promise descends into agony – a casualty of the institutionalized bigotry to which he was born.

Maddox is a tea shop servant who is practicing Ballroom dancing for an upcoming competition. He is assisted by the more intellectual and worldly Sam, the servant who once befriended Master Harold by making him a kite out of junk when the youth was distraught over the behavior of his tyrannical father. Unable to deal with the news that his hateful father is returning home from a hospital, Hally (as he is addressed by Sam) unleashes a torrent of hatred upon the two people who surely love and understand him better than anyone else.

Much has been written about the play since its arrival in 1982 – for instance that Ballroom Dancing acts as a metaphor for the elegant rapport that is possible between human beings – but philosophical critique and plot summary are no match for the experience of watching a fully-realized production. Daniel Stewart is a sight to behold as Hally; the actor deftly balances the layers of kindness, conflict and rage – it is inspirational to witness a young actor with such depth. Sometimes, watching Chris Erric’s Maddox squelch his sorrow due to the unseen shackles of his position in life is painful. But it is Anthony J. Haney as Sam who almost humiliates me – so accomplished is his once-in-a-lifetime performance. Director Brian McDonald allows the tension of the play to boil from underneath; all the performances are organic, nuanced, and never suffer from mannerism.

“Master Harold”…and the boys is storytelling at its best – a moral-filled tale which compels us to examine our own attitudes regarding the way we label each other, and the way we deal with shame. All you have to do is take a seat.

photos courtesy of the Rubicon

“Master Harold”…and the boys
Rubicon Theatre Company
1006. E. Main Street in Ventura
ends on March 6, 2011
for tickets, call 805.667.2900 or visit Rubicon

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Noreen Martin February 23, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I saw it preview night and the next night (Gala) — and it keeps getting more deeply moving each time — three great actors telling a very compelling story.


Patricia Stewart February 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

This is real lump-in-your-throat stuff. The man I was sitting with had a hard time holding back tears. See it before it’s gone.


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