Reading this play left a bad taste in my mouth; seeing it left me sad and cold.
The acting was fine, the director largely true to the text.
What (in both examinations of Fugard’s “not-autobiographical” 90 minutes of therapy) began with the charming allure of So You Think You Can Dance, 1950s style, deteriorated into a pool of personalities with virtually no redeeming qualities.
Hally (Fugard’s alter ego) is a seventeen-year-old wannabe writer. Taking inspiration from the upcoming dance competition, he begins crafting an essay only to be ripped away from his passion by becoming the uncaring master of the two black “boys” employed by his mother.
Never-seen (on stage) Mom, rules her roost with a white iron fist (save and most certainly except for her husband), chastising Hally for spending too much time with the servants.
Dad is an alcoholic cripple who’s shamed his son with his drinking antics, but also taught him some of the most repugnant nigger jokes imaginable.
Willie, one of the two middle-aged “boys” is hoping for great success in the upcoming ballroom championships, but—thanks to his most recent “hiding” of girlfriend/partner Hilda—likely will have no one at his side, even if the wounds (physical and emotional) do heal.
The closest character to being someone to admire or cheer for is Sam, described as “a bit older and wiser” than Willie. Yet Sam is complicit in Willie’s physical abuse of women by caving too quickly after his attempt (one of many, it is felt) at tough-love scolding, preferring the friendship of a cruel man to the well-being of the “fairer” sex (such an ironically apt adjective, given the “fair arse” joke that Hally delivers with such superior joy), after which a spit in Sam’s face from Hally forces the kite-making server to succumb still further; he will now do as the ignorant teen has demanded and call him “Master” going forward.
Almost all of the opening audience cheered and applauded after Sarah Vaughan’s rendition of “Little Man You’ve Had a Busy Day” brought down the curtain. But there had been so many little men just paraded on stage, that some of us—wondering how on earth this play fit into the Shaw Festival mandate—just wanted to go home and wash. JWR