I did my best to keep it together, but I finally had to reach for the tissues.
I’m a world famous weeper and I make no attempt to hold back the waterworks when I’m in the privacy of my home, where I can wail to the rafters and nobody’s the wiser.
However, on this particular occasion I was at the Signature Theatre on 42nd Street in Manhattan taking in a performance of Athol Fugard’s Master Harold…and the Boys.
But I couldn’t keep from crying, despite the crowd, as this is simply one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful plays I’ve ever seen.
The language is fabulous and the emotions so raw that I never had a chance. I don’t know what the man sitting next to me was thinking when I start sobbing and after a few seconds I didn’t care.
This was the third time I’ve seen Master Harold since 1982 when my oldest brother and I saw it with James Earl Jones and a young Danny Glover.
I saw it again in 2006 with my sister and our late father and this time Danny Glover was playing the older character Sam. I didn’t cry during either production, but when I went this latest time with my sister and auntie I pretty much fell apart.
I guess it’s because I’m older now. Our father is gone; I’ve witnessed how short and fragile life is and I’ve seen how people—myself included--can lash out at the ones they love the most.
What is so brilliant about the play is that despite being set in South Africa nearly 70 years ago, it still resonates today by addressing so many important themes about love, family, race, and friendship.
The story takes place on one rainy after in 1950 in a tearoom in Port Elizabeth. Apartheid is the law of the land and the play gives us a very personal view of just how destructive this hateful system was.
‘Nobody Knows the Steps’
Hally, a 17 year old white boy, whose parents own the tearoom, is working on a paper for school while Sam and Willie, two black employees, are setting up the chairs and tables.
These people care for each other very much and Sam is more of a father to Hally than the young man’s real dad ever was.
Sam and Willie tell the teenager about an upcoming ballroom dance contest and when Hally asks what happens when couples collide with each other on the dance floor, the two men laugh at the absurdity of such an occurrence.
The real world tragically crashes into the dream, though, when Hally learns that his alcoholic father is coming home early from yet another stint in the hospital.
Filled with helpless rage, Hally brutally turns on Sam, using him as a target for the anger he really feels toward his father. These scenes are so terrible to watch and you can’t take your eyes away from them.
“Nobody knows the steps,” Hally angrily declares, “there's no music, the cripples are also out there tripping up everybody and trying to get into the act, and it's all called the All-Comers-How-to-Make-a-Mess-of-Life-Championships.”
Lately, it seems like this world has nothing to offer but collisions and I don’t think it’s going to get better anytime soon.
I’m going to keep on going to see Master Harold for as long as producers keep putting it on stage. I’ll keep the tissues handy and hope someday that the world without collisions will extend beyond the dance floor.