Master Harold ... and the boys
Austyn Myers is arguably our town's most currently successful juvenile actor. He has performed in Les Miserables on Broadway and in its national tour; he's done television; and he's appeared professionally in other theatre projects, most notably a successful Old Globe production of Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers.
So, it's probably not all that surprising that, at age 16, Mr. Myers founded his own professional theatre company. Mounting one's own professional productions can be part of an actor's maturation process.
What is at least a bit surprising, however, is that he chose this particular play to inaugurate his venture.
Oh, there are resonances that can be taken into account. The playwright lives in San Diego and is about to turn 80. The play's world premiere occurred thirty years ago. Hally, the central character, is Mr. Myers' age (well, 17, actually, but Mr. Myers is clearly precocious). And, director Shaun T. Evans not only helped to develop Mr. Myers' talents in his position as Managing Artistic Director of the California Youth Conservatory, but he played the key role of Sam in two other productions.
Still, it's a challenge to perform a 90-minute, no intermission meditation on how racism is so insidious that it creeps into relationships even when it's not wanted. And, mostly, the Living Light company quite credibly rises to the challenge.
Mr. Fugard's admittedly autobiographical play is set in a post-World War II South Africa where apartheid rules have recently been established. In the family-owned tea room, Hally (Mr. Myers) stumbles in from the pouring rain to find the restaurant empty and servants Sam (Mr. Evans) and Willie (Vimel Sephus) practicing dance steps for an upcoming national competition. Hally's mother, who is usually about, has been at the hospital attending to Hally's father, whose hospitalization was probably caused as much by his alcoholism as it was by complications from a war wound. As the play progresses, Hally becomes ever more agitated about his father's condition, his mother's acquiescence, and the pressures of drafting a 500-word composition, whose topic becomes the dance competition. These pressures rise to the point where, in a gasp-producing moment, racism rears its ugly head.
Mr. Fugard pursues his theme of manhood on a number of levels. Hally is on the brink of manhood, but adolescence has got the best of him for the moment. His parents have relied on him to be responsible, but the pressure has caused a lot of resentment and added to his angst. Sam has tried to be a surrogate father figure, and his conversations with Hally reveal a sharp intellect. But apartheid keeps Sam in a place that he can never transcend, despite his deep and caring relationship with his young master. Willie, on the other hand, is the quiet one, but he reveals his own manhood issues involving his girlfriend and dance partner. He beats her, and she's walked out on him because of it.
The play's dramatic tension primarily rests with the relationship between Hally and Sam, and opening night jitters cut into how that relationship was portrayed. Mr. Myers was affected more than Mr. Evans, as he struggled for lines on more than one occasion and tended to perform at a too-consistent level of volume and emotion. I suspect, however, that his performance will deepen with experience, and in Mr. Evans he has a solid anchor to keep from drifting far. Mr. Sephus had less to do, but he took the spotlight effectively when called on to do so.
George Gonzalez designed a surprisingly detailed setting that fits the Lyceum Space's nearly L-shaped configuration well. Beth Connelly found simple but detailed costumes for the performers to wear and, while no properties designer is credited, Bonnie Durben, the local guru of that craft, is thanked in the playbill. Michael Hoffman's lighting design is weak, however, particularly in the melodramatic way it is used to isolate performers during emotional monologues.
What could have been a vanity project for a young actor has turned out to be a serious venture, one worth supporting.
Performances through May 20 at the Lyceum Space in San Diego's Horton Plaza. Tickets ($28) are available at the door or online. Visit livinglighttheatre.webs.com/ for more information.
Living Light Theatre presents Master Harold ... and the boys, by Athol Fugard. Directed by Shaun T. Evans with Beth Connelly (Costume Design), George Gonzalez (Scenic Design), Michael Hoffman (Lighting Design), Sherrill Wilmer (Stage Manager), and Josh Pinkowski (Production Assistant).
The cast includes Mr. Evans, Austyn Myers, and Vimel Sephus.