Hally (r. Andrew Humann) chats with Willie (l. Adrian Roberts) after school while Sam (c. L. Peter Callender) prepares his lunch in Aurora Theatre Company’s Master Harold…and the boys. Photo: David Allen

Aurora’s new production of “Master Harold” … and the boys is a brilliant evening of theater. Its playwright is South Africa’s Athol Fugard, whose internationally respected anti-apartheid works include Blood Knot, Boesman and Lena, and My Children! My Africa!Master Harold’s” cast of three, L. Peter Callender, Andrew Humann and Adrian Roberts, are all superb in their roles. And Timothy Near’s discerning direction perfects the production.

The powerful, award-winning “Master Harold,” a 90-minute autobiographically-based drama set in one rainy afternoon in 1950, is about Hally (aka Master Harold), a 17-year-old Afrikaner white boy, and Sam and Willy, two middle-aged black servants employed by Hally’s family.

Peter Callender (Aurora’s Permanent Collection, A Soldier’s Story and Breakfast with Mugabe) gives an absolutely brilliant performance as Sam, who has acted as Hally’s lifelong loving mentor in the vacuum left by Hally’s tyrannical alcoholic debilitated father.

In addition to supervising his daily school work and encouraging his intellectual thought, Sam has subtly tried to teach Hally the values and ideals that will make him a moral and principled adult. Sam has always been attuned to the boy’s emotions, as exemplified by their recollections of the afternoon they played with Sam’s homemade kite. And, poignantly, their life experiences influence their perception of the occasion.

Sam (l, L. Peter Callender) and Willie (r, Adrian Roberts), pretend to spar as Hally (Andrew Humann) calls the shots in Aurora Theatre Company’s ‘Master Harold’ … and the boys. Photo: David Allen

Willy (first-rate acting by Adrian Roberts, Breakfast with Mugabe) has permanently personified the servant, as illuminated by his calling Hally “Master Harold.” Willy turns to Sam for guidance and support, which the smarter and more sophisticated Sam willingly gives. Willy and Sam are avidly anticipating an approaching major ballroom dancing competition among the black communities. Sam likens the graceful dancing to “a world without collisions,” a metaphor for Sam’s perfect world.

In his Aurora debut, Andrew Humann very skillfully and confidently plays Hally. Although he is on the cusp of manhood, Hally can’t manage the confusing emotions caused by the bitter anger and the love that he simultaneously feels for his father. His inner conflict causes him to lash out at Sam and Willy in terribly demeaning ways, with acts of racism he absorbed from his father. In this powerful and distressing climax to the play, Andrew Humann, L. Peter Callender and Adrian Roberts are at their finest.

“Master Harold” … and the boys, a finely-wrought exploration of the dynamics of apartheid and the insidiousness of racism, was banned in South Africa when it was written in 1982. It’s a not-to-be-missed, outstandingly-acted drama, perfect for Aurora Theatre’s intimate setting.

“Master Harold” … and the boys runs through July 17, 2016. For information, extended performance dates and tickets, visit Aurora’s website.

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Emily S. Mendel

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...