Sunday, May 21, 2006

SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #6 – “MASTER HAROLD”…And The Boys (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL)

SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #6 – “MASTER HAROLD”…And The Boys (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL)

In seeing “MASTER HAROLD”…And The Boys – Athol Fugard’s intensely personal autobiographical account of growing up as a wealthy white boy in South Africa -- it’s perhaps a little too easy for American audiences to dismiss this apartheid-era drama with detached ignorance as some relic from another culture and time. Despite the play’s distant locale, it serves as a stark reminder that the United States’ shameful Jim Crow age wasn’t that long ago either. Fortunately, for many history-deprived Chicagoland high school students whose schools participate in Steppenwolf for Young Adults -- an outstanding outreach program to local schools -- they had the opportunity to see a display of raw emotion that exemplified some of period's the racial inequality. If only racial inequality were a thing of the past.

Steppenwolf ensemble member K. Todd Freeman’s passionate, yet rapid-paced direction of this classic play demonstrated just how manic codified racism could be, especially in undercutting civil and even seemingly loving friendships between individuals of different color. One has to wonder how incredibly agonizing it must have been for Fugard to bare his soul and his own shameful actions from his youth by exploring his relationship (as Hally, portrayed by Nick Ferrin) -- with his family’s trusted keeper and confidante, Sam, played with a rare dignified eloquence by Cedric Young, and Willie, who despite the soft-spoken nature of his character portrayed by Kenn E. Head, demonstrated his heart and heartbreak with each sweep of his broom.

While Sam provided Hally with a level of unspoken mentoring that his own father was unable to offer, it was breathtakingly halting to witness how quickly the young man turned hostile against Sam when any sign of his own supposed superiority was remotely questioned.

While this version of “MASTER HAROLD” …And The Boys enjoyed only a brief reign last fall, its profound and poignant message has remained with me enough to make this number 6 on my SOB Best of 2005-06 Theatrical Season list. (Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a proud member of Steppenwolf’s Auxiliary Council Board of Governors.)

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #1 - Theater Of The New Ear (Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA) (May 30, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #2 – Guys And Dolls (Piccadilly Theatre, London, UK) (May 26, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #3 – Hedda Gabler (Brooklyn Academy of Music – Harvey Theatre, New York, NY) (May 25, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #4 – A Blameless Life (Steppenwolf Garage, Chicago, IL) (May 24, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #5 – Reeling (The Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis, MN) (May 23, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #7 – Love Song (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL) (May 19, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #8 - Billy Elliot The Musical (Victoria Palace Theatre, London, UK) (May 18, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #9 - The Well-Appointed Room (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL) (May 17, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #10 - Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York, NY) (May 15, 2006)
The SOB Five "Worst" of 2005-06 (May 12, 2006)
SOB's Best and Worst of 2005-06 Theatre Season (May 12, 2006)

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