Review "'Master Harold'...and The Boys": Fugard Is The Master!


TimeLine Theatre presents

‘Master Harold’… and ‘The Boys’

Written by Athol Fugard

Directed by Jonathan Wilson, SDC

Thru March 21st

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Running time:  1 hour and 45 minutes (no intermission)

A father abuses his son. The son abuses the servants. The servant abuses his wife. Playwright Athol Fugard chronicles growing up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in the TimeLine Theatre production of ‘Master Harold’… and The Boys. Set in the 1950’s in the St. George’s Park Tea Room, the play focuses on the acceptable oppression of the time period. Harold Jr. or “Hally” has stopped in for lunch at the family owned restaurant. He reminisces favorite childhood moments with ‘the boys,’ Sam and Willie. ‘The boys’ are older native African adults. Hally is a college aged student. Estranged from his abusive, alcoholic father, Hally struggles with his role with ‘the boys’ or servants. (Servants? Not the best description to describe non-white employees during apartheid. A cross between slaves and servants: slavants.) In ‘Master Harold’… and The Boys, Fugard exposes his younger self as an entitled brat that treats slavants like playthings for his own amusement. When Hally tires of the game he chooses to play with ‘the boys’, ‘Master Harold’ exerts tyrannical control of the slavants.


Fugard has written his self portrait harshly in ‘Master Harold’… and The Boys. Under the direction of Jonathan Wilson, Nate Burger (Hally) plays the described Fugard as a boy perfectly. From the moment he arrives on stage, he is arrogant, entitled and self absorbed. (I want to slap him immediately or at least say “I’m not your slave pick up your own damn coat.) Without any display of gratitude, “Master Harold’ expects ‘the boys’ to clean up his messes, serve his lunch, play his games, act out his commands and not respond to his cruelty. Some of Burger’s best moments are the one-sided phone conservations with his parents. Alfred H. Wilson’s (Sam until February 28th) performance was beautiful. Wilson portrays a slavant with dignity, honesty and kindness. His posture and direct manner suggest a wise man in command of the situation. It’s a contrast with Daniel Bryant’s (Willie) slavant portrayal, meek and overly reverent to ‘Master Harold.’ The chemistry between Wilson and Bryant is war buddies dancing around the enemy. ‘The boys’ camaraderie in the finale is a wonderful moment of dignified defiance!

Timothy Mann (scenic designer) has recreated a genuine 1950’s café complete with a juke box. Julia Eberhardt (properties designer) has added special touches of the time period: cloth napkins, cake under glass, bottles of cream sodas. Timeline Theatre transports the audience into a stormy day in the 1950’s. Fugard takes the audience back in time to South Africa. ‘Master Harold’… and The Boys is already a powerful tool to educate the world about apartheid. It’s a phenomenal lesson realizing Fugard has written about his own cruelty. Sharing a moment from your childhood that you’re not proud of is a gesture of trust. Writing a story about your active participation in an abolished segregated political system is Fugard’s act of reconciliation to Willie and all the slavants and his love letter to Sam.

Referencing parallels to the American civil rights movement, Bill says, “superiority over one another transcends cultures.”

Timeline kicks off Fugard Chicago 2010 with the production ‘Master Harold’… and The Boys. Two other theatre companies will also showcase Fugard’s work. Remy Bumppo will produce The Island from January 27th through March 7th and Court Theatre will produce Sizwe Banzi is Dead from May 13th through June 13th .


Hectic schedules prohibited a preshow nosh. So, post show we jumped on CTA #36 traveled down Broadway to Wang’s, 3317 N. Broadway.  We went from a South African tea room to an Asian ??? It’s too ornate for a bar and too small for a night club. Asian opium den? Were those known for coziness? Wang’s is like being transported back in time and across to another culture. It’s decorated in great Asian detail. We relax in cozy club chairs by the window. There are no slavants and just one bartender so you schlep your own drinks. Also true to the olden days, cash only!

Photograph by Lara Goetsch

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