“Master Harold … and the Boys” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – February 16, 2020


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Three brilliant actors create vivid depictions of the appalling apartheid conditions in South Africa circa 1950 in Athol Fugard’s tensely dramatic semi-autobiographical work “Master Harold” … and the Boys.”

Master Harold is an immature White lad who grew up under the tutelage of his household’s two Black servants, Sam and Willie.  They substituted for his errant and drunken father.  But now with a bit of age, a tad of biased book learning, and bad household examples, he turns on his trusted servants leading to a stunning moment when Harold becomes his bigoted father as the servants turn on their master and put him in his place as he transforms into a sniveling baby before their eyes.  Who is really in charge in this corrupt household?  Harold might realize his aberrant behavior but even if he does, it is too late to turn Sam and Willie back into his supporters.  The play is a telling and shocking expose on the awful living conditions of South African Blacks and the terrible subservient treatment they received in this antiquated society.

The superb Arizona Theatre Company production is staged tautly and nervously by Kent Gash that sets the play flawlessly for the magnificent performances.  Ian Eaton’s Sam, the more vocal and damning servant, is played with subtle variation between his thoughts and reactions as he makes it clear that all those years of submissive behavior was always an act that was never truthful.  Odera Adimorah’s Willie is quieter and more easily subordinated but still graphically displays the evils under which Blacks must exist in their home country.  Oliver Prose plays Hally (Harold) with whiny idiocy as he transitions from a cocky, arrogant nerd into an idiot who wrongly thinks he is superior to his servants who have tried to raise him into a caring and understanding adult.

Jason Sherwood’s perfectly dilapidated tea room setting with a steady rain outside is the perfectly bleak location for the transformation of the rude white kid to betray his longtime companion servants who thoughtfully raised him and never suspected he would turn into such a bigot.

“Master Harold” … and the Boys” is an extreme downer but what a stunning and justified slam at white traitors who act superior when they have no right to.  “Master Harold” … and the Boys” plays through March 1.  For tickets, contact the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A

Arizona Theatre Company has announced its 2020/21 season which opens October 1-18 with the musical “My 80 Year Old Boyfriend” which discusses the magic that happens when people say yes to relationships.  Next is “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly” (November 11-29) by Lauren Gunderson who wrote “Silent Sky” which was presented earlier this season.  This show is billed as a “cleverly imagined sequel to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ where Mary Bennet grows tired of her role as the obedient middle sister.”  The popular musical “Little Shop of Horrors” plays January 8-31.  Next is a world premiere co-production with The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater called “how to raise an American Son” (February 18-March 7) about the complexities of a family.  “Pru Payne” (April 8-25) is also a world premiere about “a life-affirming story of love, loss, and how we deal with it.”  The season closes with “Nina Simone: Four Women” (May 20-June 6) a musical evening about the fiery genius where she pays tribute to four girls killed in a 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing of a Birmingham Church.

A long-overdue criticism of the Herberger Theater Center where ATC presents its productions must be detailed.  The theater has long locked the Second Street doors due to “safety concerns.”  But these critical doors allow access from where most patrons park so they are supposed to be opened an hour before performances, something often forgotten that forces theater patrons to walk around the building unnecessarily to enter.  Hopefully protests will put the door opening on a list of things that house management staff will always do.