(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/7.)
There is good reason that “‘Master Harold’ … and the Boys” ranks among the South African writer Athol Fugard’s most celebrated and popular plays. As the sterling new production that opened on Monday at the Signature Theater attests, this quiet drama remains a powerful indictment of the apartheid system and the terrible human cost of the racism it codified and legalized. At a time when systemic racism and its roots are once again a subject of national discussion in America, it feels particularly, and sorrowfully, pertinent.
The three-character play, here directed with care by Mr. Fugard himself, takes place in 1950, in a modest tea shop in the town of Port Elizabeth. Sam (Leon Addison Brown), in his 40s, works in the shop and wears a waiter’s uniform; his co-worker Willie (Sahr Ngaujah), about Sam’s age, does more of the rough work and is dressed accordingly. They are black; the 17-year-old Hally (Noah Robbins), the son of the tea shop’s owners, is white. He arrives from school on a rainy afternoon and greets Sam and Willie cheerfully.