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Apartheid, Relationships Explored in Falcon's "Master Harold...and the Boys"

In a small South African tea shop in 1950, two black men and a white boy joke and dance together, defying the brutalities of apartheid through their joyous love.

But issues of family, race, and power are just below the surface and a phone call triggers catastrophe in Athol Fugard’s searing Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Master Harold…and the Boys, onstage at Falcon Theatre in Newport from May 5 through May 20.

More than half-a-century later and half a world away, the issues are as relevant as ever, says Ted Weil, the drama’s director and Falcon co-founder. “It’s a universal statement about racial relations even though it’s specifically set against apartheid.”

Watch for top performances from two of the area’s best actors – Ken Early and Deondra Means as "...the boys," the contemptuous view of the apartheid white society toward blacks, while privileged teen Hally (Rupert Means) is 'the master.’

Early takes the pivotal role of Sam, mentor to Halie. Local audiences have seen him in starring roles at Ensemble, Know and Cincinnati Shakespeare and in films including Miles Ahead. His Equity performance is supported by a Theatre Artists Project (TAP) Fund grant.

Weil says he immediately saw Early in the role and wanted to be the one to direct him. “I knew he’d bring a particularly nuanced approach. Ken and I have known each other for many, many years so it’s a real joy to have this opportunity to work with him on such a powerful, important piece of theater.”

Falcon’s home is a tiny storefront space in downtown Newport and Weil sees the intimacy as an advantage for chamber drama that packs an emotional punch.

“There’s nowhere to hide on our little stage. Everything has to be completely real because the audience is right there with you. You just can’t fake anything because it shows. Your acting has to be completely honest…and when it is, in a small space, it’s truly spectacular.”

Collaboration is always the foundation of theater, but, Weil adds, “As a white man, it’s especially important to me that this process be collaborative. I’m relying on Ken and Deondra to make sure I don’t tip anything into melodrama and also don’t short-change anything significant. I truly believe this is a play that is told from both points of view - Hally’s and Sam’s - so collaborating with all three actors to ensure we tell all their stories on stage is essential.”

Weil wants Master Harold… to stay with the audience after they leave the theater. “I want people to wonder what happens tomorrow in the world of the play. We don’t know if Hally and Sam will fix the rift between them and that’s a question we want to leave unanswered. More deeply, I want everyone to see the parallels between apartheid South Africa and every other place and time in our world where oppression exists.  

“That’s a tall order, but this play reaches so much farther than the shores of South Africa. I would love for that to resonate with our audiences the way it has with me.”

Master Harold…and the Boys, May 5-20. Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. All performances at 8 p.m. Tickets $20, $15 students (with ID.) Plus service fee. $5 discount on Thursdays. 513-479-6783 and here.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts