Master Harold Bway Newcomer Boatman Returns To Stage From TV

Master Harold Bway Newcomer Boatman Returns To Stage From TV An 8-performance week should feel like a breeze for Master Harold...and the boys co-star Michael Boatman, who had been doing double duty on television, co-starring simultaneously in both "Spin City" and "Arli$$."

Michael Boatman in Master Harold...
Michael Boatman in Master Harold... (Photo by Joan Marcus)

But the crossover has actually been "more exhausting," according to the actor.

"When you're shooting a show in front of a live audience — like on `Spin City' — you had to learn the whole script but it was over the course of the night," Boatman revealed to Playbill On-Line. "And it was somewhat of a more disposable medium in that you learn a script every week for 22 weeks; you forget because you have to make room for the new stuff to come in next week." By contrast, "The rehearsal process for Master Harold was so extensive and intense. I say these lines in my sleep. I'll remember them when I'm a hundred years old."

Boatman makes his Broadway debut in the Athol Fugard drama opposite Danny Glover, who originally played the role Boatman now inhabits. "In some ways, you feel like you're laboring in a very tall shadow." However, Glover — who has the Tony Award-winning shadow of his original co-star Zakes Mokae to contend with — did not tread upon his new counterpart's portrayal.

"He's very respectful that way," offered Boatman. "There have been a couple of things where [original Hally, now director] Lonny [Price] remembered Danny doing something in their production and he'd say 'Oh well, Danny tried this, why don't you try it and see what you can do with it.' At first, it takes a moment like 'Oh wow, I don't want to do what another actor did.' But if I could make it work and make it my own, then we stuck with it."

Though known as a television star, Boatman began his acting career (and is quite versed) in the theatre. "I did theatre in high school more on a lark than anything else and discovered that I liked it and had some small facility — and I do mean small facility — at that time. Then I went to college and was very fortunate that I had some wonderful professors [who] led me to my acting career. By the time I finished school, I had done almost every aspect of theatre that you can imagine: Shakespeare; the Greeks; tragedy and comedy; improv. It was a really ambitious program, so I felt very confident as an actor at 21 years old. I really felt like I knew what I was doing and, of course, I was wrong. But, I did have the feeling that I knew." Once his television shows had both wrapped, Boatman felt it was time to return to the stage. "I jumped at the chance. I had been complaining to my agent for really years about trying to get back onto the stage. At that point I had no idea it would be Broadway. It just seemed to be the time for me to do theatre again. So I flew back to New York and met Lonny Price and we hit it off immediately and he actually offered me the part the next day. It couldn't have worked out better."

A self-proclaimed traditionalist, Boatman — who lists A Raisin in the Sun's Walter Lee and Shakespeare's Othello as dream roles — was anxious to tackle what he credits "one of the great plays of the 20th century."

"I think like most great theatre and great drama, [Master Harold] resonates on a purely human level. It's a story about the oppression of spirit and the love between friends and how that love can be corrupted by other concerns like racism and bigotry and prejudice and misery. These are three men who live in a miserable environment and that misery enacts itself in their lives in many ways. Athol Fugard creates that world and he's able to create a little bubble wherein we have this moment as three men. But then, there are always flashes of the outside world and not just the world of apartheid, but the world of the dysfunctional relationship between Hally and his parents and the relationship with the two men."

Is not having a new script every week a luxury? Boatman concludes, "Just when I think that I've got it really figured it out, there's something that happens — really from night to night — that changes the entire texture of a moment. And moments change performances. So, it's a wonderful challenge to be able to make it fresh and new every night. For me, it is really all about the audience. There are people out there who come to see this story. And whether or not, they've come to see Danny, or me, or Christopher or all three of us, or whether they don't know anything about us, but they love the play, I feel that each audience deserves our absolute best. So it's a challenge to make that happen and not become bored or jaded in any way. That's where I think the fun is, to allow yourself to rediscover this thing every single night and that's an experience I haven't had to this degree."