“MASTER HAROLD” … and the boys

The Colony Theatre Company’s last production, Trying, proved to be its biggest and
most critically acclaimed hit in years, and has scored an impressive 8 Ovation
nominations—in every category for which it was eligible. A decidedly tough act to
follow, but follow it they have, with a superb and supremely moving production of
Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” … and the boys.

Master Harold is Fugard’s look back at his young adulthood in segregated South
Africa, and based on an event which haunted him for years. Teenaged “Hally,”
burdened with an invalid alcoholic father, learned what it meant to be a man from
a surrogate dad, a black man named Sam who worked in his parents’ tea room.  At
the same time, the racism he internalized while growing up under Apartheid, led to
an incident where he demeaned Sam as a human being, and himself in the process.
Master Harold is Fugard’s apology to Sam and Sam’s equally influential coworker
Willie, and a tribute to their profound influence in his life.

We first meet Sam and Willie as Willie prepares for the Easter Province Dance
Championships. Willie is worried about the fact that his woman, Hilda, has not
shown up for dance practice for the past three days. We realize that Willie is an
abusive partner, and Sam reminds him that “beating takes the pleasure out of
ballroom dancing.” Already we see the humorous way that Sam can impart bits of

Hally arrives, catching Sam and Willy mid-step.  He is deeply upset to find out that his
mother has gone to the hospital to bring his ailing father back home…weeks too
soon. This is bad news indeed for young Hally. He is already doing poorly in math, and
if his amputee dad returns home before he has recovered from this latest illness, it will
mean having to stay up all night massaging his fathers “gamy leg,” and thus failing
his exams.

As the play progresses, we learn more about Hally and Sam’s relationship. As a child,
Hally used to hide under Sam’s bed, his favorite place to be.  He recalls when Sam
made him a kite. What a strange sight it must have been, a white boy and a black
man old enough to be his father, out flying a kite.  But it was a happy time for Hally,
back then. Life felt the right size, he says. Not too big, not too small.  “It’s got so
bloody complicated since then,” he laments.  Now, he can only dream of “a world
without collisions.” A phone call from his father reminds him how rough life’s bumps
can indeed be, and is the catalyst for the unforgivable act which the real life Hally
(Fugard) wrote this play as penance for.

I have seen some of Michael A. Shepperd’s work before, but nothing prepared me
for the magnificence of his performances as Sam. From his impeccable South
African accent to his lighter than air dance steps to the dignity he gives this man to
the agonizing sense of betrayal in his eyes when Hally shows him the ultimate
disrespect, this is the kind of performance that wins accolades and awards.

Thomas Silcott is delightful and simply marvelous as Sam’s cohort Willie, a man who
may be taking out some of the frustrations of a life lived under Apartheid on poor
Hilda, whom he calls his “Ginger Rogers with no teeth.” Less educated than Sam but
no less deserving of Hally’s respect, Silcott’s Willie is a man doing his best under far
from ideal circumstances.

Finally there is Michael Tauzin’s superb work as Master Harold, aka Hilly. A year ago
Tauzin was a new kid in town, freshly arrived from Louisiana State University when
Michael Matthews cast him in The Bacchae, at the Celebration Theater.  At the
time, StageSceneLA called him “a new actor in town and one to watch.” This was
followed by his sensitive work in Beautiful Thing, which prompted us to describe him
as “a talent to be reckoned with.” It was this performance which placed him on our
list for Outstanding Lead Actor/Drama for 2006-7. In Milk Cartons and Other Places
to Find Yourself, we saluted his “amazing” work as an “outrageous Bangladeshi
phone sex operator” and the “touching” coming out vignette which he wrote.
Then, from “the actor who can do anything,” came his delightful wordless turn as a
yellow bird named Woodstock in Snoopy!!! The Musical. Now with his large theater
debut at the Colony, Tauzin has proven himself without a doubt the discovery of the
year.  Eager and idealistic but tormented by doubts and fears, Tauzin’s Hally quickly
wins our hearts, so much so that we ache for him during the aforementioned phone
call with his father, during which a host of emotions play over Tauzin’s face (and
tears stream down the faces of those in the audience watching his brilliantly
sensitive performance).

Director David Rose once again shows why he is one of the Colony’s finest company
members, as he has been over the more than a dozen Colony productions which he
has directed and which I have had the privilege of attending.  He is aided here by
an especially fine set design by Victoria Profitt. Her St. Georges Park Tea Room (not
far removed from a 1950s American diner) features rain dripping down its windows
throughout the performance, an authentic (of the era) jukebox, and a worn yellow
and red linoleum tile floor so realistic that I could scarcely believe my eyes when I
saw up close that it was painted on. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg only needed to come
up with three costumes, but each is perfect. Don Guy’s lighting design is simple but
effective, the Tea Room slowly darkening as the day comes to a close.  The always
excellent Cricket Myers designed the sound, which incorporates several jukebox
tunes from the era.  Finally, Cate Caplin choreographed an absolutely lovely
ballroom dance sequence, performed to perfection by Shepperd and Silcott.

“Master Harold” … and the boys demonstrates once again the magic of live
theater, which can transport you as effectively as a multimillion dollar movie to
another time and place.  It is yet another feather in the cap of Barbara Beckley’s
Colony Theatre Company, and a worthy successor to the hugely successful Trying.
Kudos to all involved in this magnificent production!

Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank.

–Steven Stanley
October 20, 2007
Photos: Michael Lamont

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