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Mortall Coile’s Rendition of Athol Fugard’s "Master Harold" … and the boys Is Most Impressive

Mortall Coile Theatre Company's production of Athol Fugard's "Master Harold" ... and the boys stars (from left) Ben Pluska as Hally, George Hill as Willie, and Gil Faison as Sam (photo by Curtis Scott Brown)

Mortall Coile Theatre Company’s production of Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” … and the boys stars (from left) Ben Pluska as Hally, George Hill as Willie, and Gil Faison as Sam (photo by Curtis Scott Brown)

Mortall Coile Theatre Company’s presentation of South African dramatist Athol Fugard’s 1982 play, “Master Harold” … and the boys, takes place on a rainy afternoon in 1950 in South Africa during the the country’s infamous apartheid era. Its protagonist, “Hally,” is the 17-year-old son of the owners of St. George’s Park Tea Room in Port Elizabeth. While his alcoholic father is in hospital, and his mother is busy attending him, Hally becomes the de facto manager of the establishment — during after-school hours — with supervisory duties over two black men who have been his friends all his life.

Hally has become very close to Sam, the elder of the two men, who has acted as his mentor in growing up — and is a refuge from his abusive father. Willie, the younger of the two men, is happy-go-lucky and care-free; and he wants to enter a dancing competition, occasionally beats up on his dance partner, Hilda, and is also being mentored in life by Sam, especially as regards his attitude toward women. As the afternoon progresses, a crisis unleashes Hally’s fear and innate bigotry, which could destroy everything for these three forever.

Mortall Coile Theatre Company founder and artistic director Jesse R. Gephart has perfectly cast this show. All three characters are always available to the entire audience, which is sometimes a bit of a strain in three-quarter arena at Sonorous Road Productions in Raleigh; but Gephart adroitly captures both the intimacy and the confrontations of these characters.

Set and lighting designer Thomas Mauney has built a cozy little tea room for the harsh story to play itself out in, with a nicely tiled floor, a fresh, clean-looking, and brightly colored old Wurlitzer 45 RPM jukebox, and a comfy serving and business desk.

Choreographer Chasta Hamilton Calhoun has nicely prepared the portrayers of Sam and Willie through dance exercises, including one with a chair; and costume designer Denise Schumaker appropriately clad Hally in a prep-school blazer, with shielded breast pocket and gray flannel trousers. Sam is formal in white jacket and black pants, and Willie’s attire is replete with and apron. Mauney’s set and Schumaker’s costumes make you want to go into the St. George’s Park Tea Room, sit down, and order.

Gil Faison fills the stage with his character, Sam, and gives him heart, soul, and integrity. Sam’s tolerance of the misbehaviors of his co-worker, Willie, and the guidance that he provides the younger man show the forbearance of a firm but kindly father. His relationship with Hally is one of both love and respect.

Willie, as created for us by George Hill, is comedic, has a lively charm, and is thoroughly self-involved in his dance-competition preparation. Hill makes Willie’s esteem for and gratitude to his compatriot, Sam, palpable.

Ben Pluska is excellent as Hally, lulling us into admiring his relationship with “the boys” in the beginning, despite a couple of hints in the dialogue that are too easily overlooked. Pluska’s Hally commands our attention in the manner of one who expects to do that; but when Hally falls from grace, his remorse is genuine. Pluska gives a solid and powerful performance.

This is the first of Mortall Coile Theatre Company’s productions that we have had the pleasure of seeing, and we are soundly impressed. Keep your eye on them; we expect more excellent entertainment from Mortall Coile.

Mortall Coile Theatre Company's presentation of <em>"Master Harold" ... and the boys</em> by Athol Fugard stars Ben Pluska (center) as Hally and Gil Faison (right) as Sam (photo by Curtis Scott Brown)

Mortall Coile Theatre Company’s presentation of “Master Harold” … and the boys by Athol Fugard stars Ben Pluska (center) as Hally and Gil Faison (right) as Sam (photo by Curtis Scott Brown)

SECOND OPINION: April 16th Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/04/mortall-coile-theatre-companys-master-harold-and-the-boys-is-a-masterpiece/.

Mortall Coile Theatre Company presents “MASTER HAROLD” … AND THE BOYS at 3 p.m. April 17, 8 p.m. April 21-23, and 3 p.m. April 24 at Sonorous Road Productions, 209 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27605.

TICKETS: $19.90 ($17.80 students and seniors), including fees.

BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or http://www.sonorousroad.com/master-harold (bottom right).

SHOW: http://mctheatre.co/now-showing/, https://www.facebook.com/events/1551421511855389/, and http://www.sonorousroad.com/master-harold.

PRESENTER: http://mctheatre.co/, https://www.facebook.com/mctheatre, and https://twitter.com/mortallcoile.

VENUE: http://www.sonorousroad.com/, http://www.sonorousroad.com/location-hours/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.

DIRECTIONS: https://maps.google.com/.

OTHER LINKS:

“Master Harold” … and the boys (1982 Yale Repertory Theatre and 1982 Broadway drama): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2248/master-haroldand-the-boys (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/5943 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%22Master_Harold%22…and_the_Boys (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: https://www.steppenwolf.org/_pdf/studyguides/master_harold_studyguide.pdf (Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago, IL).

Athol Fugard (South African playwright, born 1932): http://www.britannica.com/biography/Athol-Fugard (Encyclopædia Britannica), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/4353 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0297538/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athol_Fugard (Wikipedia).

“Master Harold” … and the boys (1985 TV movie): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089564/ (Internet Movie Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_Harold…and_the_Boys_%281985_film%29 (Wikipedia).

Jesse R. Gephart (Raleigh, NC director and Mortall Coile Theatre Company founder and artistic director): https://www.facebook.com/jrgephart (Facebook page) and http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/394495-jesse-gephart (AboutTheArtists bio).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews