I saw the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company production of Athol Fugard's landmark play Master Harold... and The Boys at a matinee on Sept. 1. It is this years traveling production that will come to the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m.
A good friend of mine calls this play the greatest play of the second half of the 20th century, and I tend to agree. The only play that has as great an impact as Fugard's play for me is Ibsen's Doll House, each shattering an audience with its unexpected and life-altering denouement. Nothing is ever the same again. Ever.
It is a play that basically dwells on father-son relationships and on rites of passage. Despite the fact that it comes from the point in history where apartheid was at its worst, despite the fact that apartheid makes up the outer wrapping of the play, both of which could lead one to misread the play. If one misreads it to that extent, one has failed to see Fugard's raison d'괲e for the play. Based as it is on Fugard's recollections of particular incidents in his life, and his relationship with a particular black person who befriended him as he was growing up, it is much more a personal exploration of eternal themes. While there is no question that the politics of apartheid informs the background of the play, just as in Romeo and Juliet a family feud of longstanding is background only, in neither case are the politics front and center. It seems to be, it appears to be but in actuality it would date the play, and as it is currently constructed, it will have a longevity based on the truth of its human emotional content alone.
The production is typical of the best that the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company has to offer. This set is simplicity itself, it contains every visual necessity that the script requires, yet it transcends all of this as the three actors make use of it. The direction by Hal Brooks is spot on. The production team of Wilson Chin, Kirche Leigh Zeile, Stuart Duke, and Kimberly Fuhr have given the actors just what they need, a Tiffany setting for their diamond-hard, multi-faceted performances. Tesha Bush is the dance coach for this production, and Patricia Norcia the dialect coach.
The trio of actors who bring the play to life are compelling in their portraiture and absolutely true in their humanity. Each is matured, for better or for worse, by the events of the play.
Guiseppe Jones offers an outstanding performance as Sam, full of love and life and laughter that, even after being shattered, still can cling to the shards of his life to find a different kind of peace, but peace nonetheless. Wendell Franklin makes of Willie a highly human being, one who may not be so amiable-appearing as Sam at the beginning, perhaps not so intelligent as Sam, perhaps not having had so even a life as Sam. The d鮯uement changes Willie appreciably: he now sees things that he did not understand about himself and his relationship to Sam and to Hally. Clifton Guterman is Hally, the "Master Harold" of the title. His relationships with Sam and with his offstage father inform much of the play, as does his coming-of-age, since he is the youngest of the charactersbut he makes his choices, despite his age or because of it, and will not back down. Guterman's is a telling performance of the pivotal role one wrong step, one telegraphing ahead of an emotion before it happens, and the whole play would fall like a failed souffle, and an audience would be left baffled. The father-son nexus applies to all of those three characters, just as in Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie all the characters are unicorns who have lost their horns.
Brooks as director can take a bow for having steered this brilliant trio of actors safely between the excesses of overacting or reaching a climax too soon and clipping the wings of the actors by ill-conceptualized stage movement. Every necessary t is crossed, every i dotted. His is a brilliant job.
If you think you can only go to see one play, one production, during this 2007-2008 season, I tell you without any reservation that this is the play and this is the production of the play that you should see indeed, must see. Be certain also to check with the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts to see if there will be a pre-performance talk. That should be a must-see also. There will also be performances at Castleton, Johnson's State, and Randolph if you cannot attend the one at the Flynn Center.
Wherever you go to see it, contact the individual venues for tickets and other information.
On Sept. 6, last Thursday, in the Salon Vert at Place des Arts in Montr顬, there was very good news: L'Op鲡 de Montr顬 announced with pleasure that in their 1st year of a 3-year drive, they had raised $1.4 million towards retiring an indebtedness of some $2 million. Certainly that is good news for those of us who appreciate the continuing excellence of the operas presented in Montr顬. It is good to know that they will not fold up their tent. Kudos to all of those who are responsible for retiring this indebtedness ... an exciting concert is scheduled for Sunday, Oct.14, at 3 p.m. at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington: Violinist Kevin Lawrence and pianist Elaine Greenfield will present a concert that includes a sonata for violin and piano by Arthur Foote, a sonata for the same instruments by Sergei Prokofiev, and will also include works by Fritz Kreisler. Sounds very interesting! ... Also intriguing is the announcement from Michael Hopkins, faculty member of UVM's department of music: a new professional chamber orchestra, the Burlington Chamber Orchestra will be making their debut in the Ballroom of the new Davis Center on the UVM campus. Circle Oct. 27 on your calendar for that one. Also, in the same location, the UVM Symphonic Orchestra will give a performance of works by Bernstein, Mussorgsky/Ravel, as well as a performance by composer/percussionist Sowah Mensa, a Ghanaian percussionist, in his original work, "Agoo" for orchestra and percussion. That concert will be on Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m.
It looks to be an exciting year!