Athol Fugard’s 1982 apartheid drama is a little like Mass for lazy Catholics: Technically speaking, you only have to show up for Eucharist (the blessing of bread and wine) to stay saved. In “Master Harold”…and the boys, that means perking up when teen Afrikaner Harold (Noah Robbins) turns on his friends (and de facto employees) Sam (Leon Addison Brown) and Willie (Sahr Ngaujah), lashing out at them with privileged contempt. For their part, they see a boy they’ve loved for years transform into another racist oppressor. The cause of Harold's devolution is a highly tangled relationship to his disabled, alcoholic dad, and the "boys" function as both surrogate fathers and siblings to the confused kid. The 80-odd minutes that precede this bitter climax is exposition, backstory and windup.
Richly detailed acting and Fugard’s solid direction make the journey there fairly engaging. The grown Robbins is totally convincing as the sweet, priggish but deeply repressed Harold, and Brown and Ngaujah have an easy rapport as two men cheerfully negotiating an unfair system. Ngaujah, a force of nature in the title role of Fela!, shows off his comic chops as the rough and impulsive Willie, and Brown's Sam carries the weight of the world on his shoulders with surprising lightness (at least until the last 20 heavy-handed minutes). Ballroom dancing is the neat metaphor Fugard deploys throughout the script, and yes, everyone steps with practiced care.
Pershing Square Signature Center (Off Broadway). Written and directed by Athol Fugard. With Leon Addison Brown, Sahr Ngaujah, Noah Robbins. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission. Through Dec 11. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
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