One of Athol Fugard's most celebrated dramas, Master Harold...and the Boys, has been well-received in its current revival at Washington DC's Studio Theatre. Part of the company's "Millennium Project: Part Two" series, Fugard's South African classic, directed by Thomas W. Jones II, ends its twice-extended run March 5. The show began previews Jan. 5 and opened Jan. 9 for a run that was initially to end Feb. 13 and then again Feb. 20.
Master Harold, set in the 1950s, tells a semi-autobiographical story of a young boy's relationship with two black men employed by the boy's family. The men serve as the child's teachers and confidantes, until the young man, troubled by his unresponsive family, impulsively vents his anger on the innocent employees.
According to a press release from Studio Theatre, the playwright himself had a similar relationship with Sam Semela, who worked in Fugard's mother's tearoom. After a rare argument, young Fugard spit in Semela's face -- an act that would haunt him for years to come and eventually serve as the basis for the crisis in Master Harold.
Other plays by Fugard include: The Blood Knot (1961), Boesman and Lena (1969), Road to Mecca, Valley Song and his most recent, The Captain's Tiger. Master Harold was first produced at Yale Rep in March 1982 and reached Broadway later that year.
Fugard himself was born of mixed race, having an Afrikaaner mother and Irish-Huguenot father. In his thirty-something years of playwriting, he's had the opportunity to expose a large public to the tense racial environment in South Africa during the years of Apartheid. Fugard and actor Zakes Mokae were arrested during the Johannesburg premiere of Blood Knot, with severe censorship laws passed prohibiting racially-mixed casts because of that play. Steven Eskay (Harold), James Brown Orleans (Sam) and Michael Anthony Williams (Willie) star in Master Harold, which is designed by Daniel Conway (set), Robin Stapely (costumes), Michael Giannitti (lighting) and Tony Angelini (sound).
Fugard's Master Harold...and the Boys plays at Seattle's Studio Theatre Jan. 5-Feb. 20. For tickets ($12) or more information call (202) 332-3300.
Up next will be the solo drama, Another American: Asking and Telling, starting May 1.
-- By David Lefkowitz