By STUART NULMAN
Racism and racial relations has always been a hot button issue no matter what time in history or location, whether it be the Deep South during the Civil Rights movement, or South Africa before 1990. Somehow, the best way to express these issues and concerns involving race and racism is through the arts.
Case in point, South Africa playwright Athol Fugard’s critically-acclaimed – and controversial — play “Master Harold … and the Boys”, which is now playing at the Segal Centre until February 11.
Produced in conjunction with the Shaw Festival, the Black Theatre Workshop and the Obsidian Theatre, “Master Harold” takes place in a tea room in South Africa, circa 1950, at a time when Apartheid has its iron grip on the country. Two of its Black waiters, Sam (Andre Sills) and Willie (Allan Louis) are gleefully and eagerly looking forward to an upcoming ballroom dancing competition in their local township (and Willie is worried if his favorite dancing partner will once again tear up the dance floor with him). During lunchtime, Master Harold (James Daly), the son of the restaurant’s owners (whom Sam and Willie have known since he was a child and still refer to him as “Hally”, his childhood nickname), stops by to try and write his school composition assignment, which Sam is willing to help him out with.
There is plenty of good time bantering and reminiscing between the three; however, when Harold gets a phone call from his mother, telling him that his tyrannical and racist father is coming home from a lengthy hospital stay, much to Harold’s disdain, an ugly side emerges from Harold, and he becomes the living embodiment of how virulent and hatred filled the policy of Apartheid really is, as he hammers in a massive wedge between his now former childhood friends, much to the shock and anger of Sam and Willie.
“Master Harold … and the Boys” is a powerful play that vividly exhibits how racism – whether it be institutional or hereditary – can rear its ugly head and creates deep, damaging divides between people who were once good friends and ruin friendships that flourished regardless of skin colour or racial origin. This play is superbly acted, as the triumvirate that makes up this cast complement each other so admirably, which makes it so painful to see how they end up by the time the lights go down. And although it takes place in a racially divided South Africa of nearly 70 years ago, the messages that it conveys about the dangers of racism still rings true today with a great deal of relevance, no matter of your are in the U.S., Canada, Myanmar, Syria or any part of the world where dividing racial lines are so painfully obvious.
This play is modern drama at its best, and teaches us valuable lessons why racism should never be a reason to permanently divide friends into enemies.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 514-739-7944, or got to www.segalcentre.org.