note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark
by Athol Fugard
Directed and Designed by Todd Olson
Willie...............C. Jamie James
Hally........Kirby Craig Glassco
When I saw this play last Friday (16 October) it was obviously under-rehearsed. Everyone knew all the lines and knew the shape of the conflicts, but the hadn't had time to relax into their parts. That meant that the earnestness with which they said the lines had a stiffness and a flatness that I hope will have eased in performance. The fact is that Athol Fugard's words alone carry great weight in this ever-new classic revelation of the human side of Apartheid.
Set in 1950, it features a Master Harold who is still in high school while "the boys" are forty-five. That means that Hally is growing out of an innocent acceptance of them as human beings --- in a sense, human beings a good deal more interesting and understanding than his own father --- while Sam and Willie no matter their fondness for him will forever remain inferiors. It is a huge one-act, partly fond memories from the past, part harsh revelations of unspoken and unrealized conflicts, in which a moment or a phrase can change everything into irrevocable tragedy.
While young Hally (Kirby Craig Glassco) teaches Sam (Dennis Roach) about what he has found in books, he and Willie (C. Jamie James) teach too. The big ballroom dancing contest the boys enter every year suddenly becomes a metaphor for life, with nations, people, and individuals all waltzing smoothly with no collisions --- a philosophic ideal dream that realty can only shatter, eventually.
Todd Olson has put the sleepy little restaurant where the boys work and Hally does homework into a three-quarter-thrust stage, with lighting that includes the audience, in order to draw them intimately into the action, and as the players become more confident this will be very effective. As the boys interrupt their ritual chores to practice dance-steps or to banter with Hally the action is always separate, yet always close.
Apparently casting problems shortened rehearsal time, but the actors and their director had a good start, and refinements always come from performing. And, even without them, it was a moving play opening night.