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Athol Fugard, South Africa’s greatest playwright, is no longer produced in the U.S. as often as he used to be. The reason for this, however, is a happy one: Now that apartheid, the subject matter of most of his plays, is a thing of the past, they have inevitably lost some of their immediacy. Today they are period pieces—but the best of them are also great plays, dramatically vital time capsules that re-enact a hideous episode in history, and they continue to work superlatively well onstage.
What I’ve been wondering about ever since Syracuse Stage announced that it was reviving “‘Master Harold’ . . . and the Boys,” the 1982 play that made Mr. Fugard famous, is the impression that would now be made by a work about apartheid by a white author. The notion that people of color should be telling their own stories has lately hardened into something not far from an orthodoxy, and “‘Master Harold’”—which is set in 1950 and tells the story of the deteriorating relationship between Hally (Nick Apostolina), a white teenager, and Sam and Willie ( L. Peter Callender and Phumzile Sojola ), two 40ish Black servants who helped to raise him and whom he regards as friends—doesn’t fit into that framework. But “‘Master Harold,’” lest we forget, is Mr. Fugard’s story, too, a semi-autobiographical dramatization of a shameful episode from his own youth, and he tells it so powerfully that you’ll feel at evening’s end that you’ve had a privileged glimpse into another, sadder world….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for ”Master Harold”…and the Boys: