Austin theater company puts on South African play that mirrors current banned literature debates
They say Shakespeare sounds best in an American accent — how about a South African one? Austin Shakespeare, a professional theater company that goes beyond The Bard, will stage a three-day production of “Master Harold” … and the Boys, a play by South African playwright Athol Fugard, set in early apartheid. The readings take place January 13-15 at KMFA’s Draylen Mason Studio.
Aside from the timeless value of sharing stories from other countries, “Master Harold” … and the Boys offers something oddly current to Texas audiences, considering its 1982 publication (while the apartheid government was still in power). The play shares a similar history to what many cultural documents suffer now in Texas politics, at least in schools; it was banned by South Africa’s Publications Appeal Board for being ''indecent, obscene, immoral and offensive to public morals,” as quoted days later in the New York Times.
Although the ban was lifted, the show premiered at Yale, becoming the first of Fugard’s plays to premiere abroad and embodying still-relevant ideas about the rerouting of blocked societal discourse in academia.
The story follows one white boy in 1950 (thought to represent the playwright, who was born Harold Athol Lannigan Fugard) and two Black servers who raised him more attentively than his blood family. When the boy gets caught in between his actual, feuding parents, he takes it out on his emotional surrogates, explicitly emphasizing the power differential between them by becoming “Master Harold.”
Fugard has been lauded many times over as the greatest, on several scales: in English, in South Africa, in general. “Fugard is one of our greatest living playwrights, and this script is funny and touching as well as powerfully dramatic,” said director Ann Ciccolella in a press release.
Marc Pouhé (lead in Austin Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Othello, among others) plays the lead alongside Corey Allen, assistant professor of acting at the University of Texas at Austin. Justin Duggan makes his Austin Shakespeare debut as the younger teen.
He is still in school at Chicago College of Performing Arts, pursuing a BFA in Acting. Austin Shakespeare calls itself the “only professional classical theater company in Central Texas,” and runs Shakespearian programming such as “Shakespeare 20/20” in schools, and the “Shakespeare Aloud” reading group, which goes over about an act a week in a group setting, allowing time for discussion and analysis as the reading progresses. The organization also emphasizes creative development through group activities such as sessions based on Julia Cameron’s landmark self-help book, The Artist's Way.
“Master Harold” … and the Boys will be shown January 13-15 at KMFA’s Draylen Mason Studio, at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, and 3 pm on Sunday. Tickets ($25, or $14 for students night-of) are available at austinshakespeare.org.