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'Master Harold' still has lessons to impart

Apr 08 2012
Christine Dolen | Miami Herald

Athol Fugard's Master Harold...and the boys, a memory-inspired play set in South Africa during the early years of apartheid, is a drama that could have grown dated, given the march of history... ...Yet even though Master Harold is set in 1950, just two years after apartheid laws were enacted, the play is as powerfully resonant as ever. The new production of Fugard's play at Palm Beach Dramaworks unfolds over 90 intermission-free minutes. Some of the interactions between a white 17-year-old and two older black men are funny, some affectionate, others rife with tension. But all are in service of Fugard's journey to a shattering dramatic climax, one that is every bit as impactful as it was when the play debuted three decades ago. ...As staged by artistic director William Hayes on Michael Amico's beautifully quaint set (complete with constantly rain-soaked greenery), this Master Harold doesn't ever shrink from the realities outside the tea room door. The place might be a haven for Hally, but it is one in which he's master over the men who work for his mother. McGuire fully inhabits Hally's pain and cruelty, resisting the impulse to soften the character early on. So when he turns on Sam, his actions seem inevitable, not that the result is any less disturbing. Seven's Willie seems deceptively sweet, benign and often comical, until he matter-of-factly reveals his repeated pattern of physical abuse. Then that sunny smile feels a little creepy. The heart and soul of Master Harold...and the boys is Sam, embodied for the third time by Bodie, who most recently played the role at GableStage in 2004. Honed over time, Bodie's performance is exquisitely detailed, a mixture of warmth, dignity, hurt, outrage and mature compassion. Bodie was nominated for a best actor Carbonell Award for the 2004 performance, and his engrossing work here is every bit as fine...