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"Master Harold"...and the boys

From 26 critic and 192 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Great writing, Relevant

About the show

Signature Theatre revives Athol Fugard's Tony-nominated drama about the insidious power of institutional racism. The playwright directs his seminal work. More…

In a small tea shop in South Africa in 1950, two black men and a young white boy joke and dance together, defying the brutalities of apartheid through their joyous love. But festering issues of family, race, and power are not so easy to ignore, and a single phone call can trigger catastrophe. '"Master Harold"...and the boys' reveals the profound personal consequences of oppression.

The Clyde Fitch Report

"Fugard’s play is as fresh as the morning’s headlines. Any morning, lately...Theirs is a relationship brought to a boiling point by the 84-year-old Fugard, who proves that he’s one of the few playwrights who can direct his own work. The cast is flawless...Fugard’s true achievement with 'Master Harold…' (the ellipsis conveys plenty) is exposing the tearoom as a microcosm as he throws harsh light on a macrocosm." Full Review


“‘Master Harold…and the Boys’ is probably the best-known work by South African master playwright Athol Fugard. The latest production at the Signature Theatre is the clearest and most subtle of the several I've seen. Under Mr. Fugard's astute direction, the play unrolls at a surprisingly leisurely pace, its microcosmic look at 1950's South African Apartheid society making its mark at first with whispered indications of discontent and finally with an explosion of hatred and disloyalty.” Full Review

Front Row Center

"A mighty play given a mighty production. It was a privilege to experience this moving work of art and I recommend it without reservation...The impact of the action and the finely wrought portrayals by these accomplished actors is one of astonishment...'Master Harold' is amusing at times. But it is at its best in establishing real, deeply experienced relationships, which, when they break apart, break us, the audience, also...Fugard has directed with perfect attention to detail." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"If Robbins embodies the powder keg of emotional conflicts that drive Hally, Leon Addison Brown is a tower of humanity, taking in Hally's meltdown with all-seeing eyes, yet not flinching from brutal honesty when it is needed….There's much more, all of it rendered in stunning detail under Fugard's direction…All three actors are superbly skilled in the art of listening…Fugard long ago admitted that the play is based on an incident from his youth…Out of the pain has come a masterpiece.” Full Review

Broadway Blog

“It remains a thrilling play, even 34 years after its premiere in 1982...Fugard’s piercing, semiautobiographical evocation of the psychological pressures created by living in a racist society is remarkably affecting. We watch three people who love each other struggling to maintain their equanimity in a society where racial hatred infects everything it touches...Fugard’s perfectly calibrated direction inspires excellent performances all around.” Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"The 84-year-old playwright directs the Signature production himself, and he does it with a masterful attention to details...Casting is crucial to make these relationships plausible...Leon Addison Brown projects just the right mix of dignity, decency, warmth and compassion...Ngaujah has transformed himself into Willie...As Hally, Noah Robbins would be a revelation, if I hadn’t been following his career already." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"With his production at the Signature, Fugard does Fugard well....Mr. Robbins is perfection as Hally...Mr. Brown's performance is compelling with his understated presence, showing Sam’s intelligence despite the lack of learning. Mr. Ngaujah adds much needed humor...By the end, 'Master Harold' is a lesson learned simply by watching this riveting play performed, directed and stated so well." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"Directed by the playwright himself, this deeply moving and powerful 1982 play is now receiving an emotionally pitch-perfect revival...The play receives superlative treatment from the ensemble...'Master Harold' requires patience during its lengthy, meandering build-up, before reaching its emotionally devastating conclusion. But it's worth the time, and to see it again, especially as staged once more by the 84-year-old playwright, represents a privilege not to be missed." Full Review

AM New York

"Athol Fugard’s 1982 apartheid-era drama proves to be both timeless and timely. Intimate and tightly constructed, sharply political and emotionally bruising, autobiographical yet universal, despairing but with a glimmer of hope, the drama uses the fragile relationship between a white schoolboy and his family’s longtime black servants to tackle the tense cultural climate of South Africa circa 1950...It is a masterful and accessible piece of writing." Full Review


"The ever-savvy Signature Theatre Company has returned the play to the directorial hands of the playwright, who has assembled a top-notch trio of actors led by the astonishing Leon Addison Brown. The result is the kind of production where you literally won’t hear a pin drop for 100 minutes...Most of all, we have Athol Fugard on hand to shed the real light – a spotlight blazing brightly on the complexities of the human condition." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"Two key characters are Sam, brilliantly played by Brown, and Willie, the excellent Ngaujah...The racism that explodes is irredeemably ugly, yet Sam’s strong verbal fight...foretells what will develop on a larger scale. My one qualm is...the tone of the performance by Robbins...Hally comes across as rather unpleasant from the beginning...But that’s a minor personal reaction to what is a devastating drama...It is an extremely well-written drama mounted with exemplary distinction." Full Review


"When a company of actors clicks, as do the three men who make up the entire cast, a great play becomes ineffable, or nearly so: transporting, transfixing and transformative, all at once. That was the impact of this South African playwright’s devastating roman à clef when it opened on Broadway in 1983, and it’s no less so in the piercing revival...A highpoint of the season." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Playwright Athol Fugard directs and conducts the breathtaking hairpin turns in the dialogue rhythms that lull us into revelations...The play feels devastatingly current and resonant in today’s America…An intimate, slow burn of a masterwork. Characters with full and layered lives change in a dramatic instant into social stereotypes, the race and class tensions simmer through civility, and we feel their loneliness and their loss." Full Review

Magical MissTari Tour

"It's theatrically wonderful how the air is completely sucked out of the room and your heart breaks for the relationships that have been forever changed. The acting is superlative - all three performers are truly at the top of their game and they complement each other beautifully...Basically writing about yourself and insidiousness of institutional racism is a powerful thing to do, and Fugard is masterful in getting that below the surface." Full Review


"There is little action in the play, but a lot of thought...Brown and Robbins both do a superb job of conveying the complicated relationship between the two; one that leads to a powerful moment when the gentleman who has devoted more than a decade to being a role model to the boy must respond to his rebellion. The charismatic Ngaujah's role is more humorous, but he effectively serves as an example of acceptable behavior for a black man of that time and place." Full Review

The New York Times

"As the sterling new production attests, this quiet drama remains a powerful indictment of the apartheid system and the terrible human cost of the racism it codified and legalized...Directed with care by Mr. Fugard himself...The emotional power of the play resides at first in the affection Sam shows toward Hally. Mr. Brown gives an understated and deeply touching performance...As the more juvenile Willie, Mr. Ngaujah is bubbly and likable...Mr. Robbins is superb, as well." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"The play itself has not lost any of its power even if it's lost some of its ability to surprise...Fugard attacks the topic so thoroughly and so bracingly that it remains astonishing that he does so with such sensitivity and beauty that overwhelm the underlying anger...The gasps we may no longer need. But the accompanying insight is, as it has always been, invaluable." Full Review


"With its leisurely storytelling, deceptively complex humanity and grounded simplicity, the wonderful play reminds us how, through the decades, Fugard has taken people from very far away and made their lives so real that they resound beyond the impersonal facts of distant news stories...When I first saw 'Master Harold,' I dismissed it as just another pecking-order play...Fugard, in his reconsideration, proves how wrong I was." Full Review


"Now in revival, under the direction of Fugard, his coming-of-age play still pulses with a terrible beauty...Fugard impeccably directs to let the Beckett-like simplicity of his play be its strong suit. He trusts to its spare language, vividly limned characters, and the tableaus of the racial hate percolating in South Africa of 1950...The revival of his autobiographical 'Master Harold' is a fine opportunity to re-visit a gem that transcends the dark days of apartheid." Full Review

The Washington Post

"The catalyzing moment is handled expertly by the actors in this commendable revival...The political context does not feel as urgent now and, as a result, an audience shifts its attention even more resolutely to his dramas’ emotional cores. Fortunately, ‘Master Harold’ has a powerful one. Fugard himself has directed this revival, and though it comes across as talkier than some superlative past versions, it still builds potently...It’s a particular pleasure to witness the work of Robbins here." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"Its powerful discussions and depictions of racism and social class greatly resonate in a society where just four months earlier the chant 'Black Lives Matter!' rang through the city...Under Fugard’s masterful direction, the rising stakes and pain of the characters become palpable as Sam and Hally move closer and closer to the invisible Rubicon between black servants and white masters...Theater fans would be sorry indeed if they were to miss out on this exquisite production." Full Review

Time Out New York

"The 80-odd minutes that precede this bitter climax is exposition, backstory and windup. Richly detailed acting and Fugard’s solid direction make the journey there fairly engaging. The grown Robbins is totally convincing as the sweet, priggish but deeply repressed Harold, and Brown and Ngaujah have an easy rapport as two men cheerfully negotiating an unfair system." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"A landmark and still timely play that is the masterwork of an important playwright directed with real grace and insight by the writer himself...Three delicate, precise performances...This short production may begin to drag in its middle, but Fugard’s writing and direction utilize the quotidian masterfully to engender and underscore an impactful conclusion...This production expertly captures both the tension of the social situation and the shock of its snapping." Full Review


"It's a beautifully rendered yet somewhat sleepy revival of Fugard's best-known work, which feels unfortunately diminished amid its own grandiosity...Under Fugard's steady direction, 'Master Harold' reaches its emotional climax at a slow boil. This is as it should be, but the necessarily nuanced performances occasionally drown in the cavernous Diamond Theater...Still, those looking for a traditional and well-acted production of Fugard's masterpiece won't be disappointed." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"In the last 30 minutes, what has sometimes seemed a bit desultory and kitchen-sinkish, with a lacy overlay of pretty imagery involving kites and quicksteps, becomes gripping and then devastating...At times you might wish for more imaginative direction, or at least a more explicitly charming treatment of Hally...Even somewhat muffled, it cannot help speaking to something larger than South Africa in 1950, which was not the only place or time on earth when black lives didn’t seem to matter." Full Review

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Profound, Thought-provoking

See it if You like plays with a compelling story arc that take you in an emotional journey, give insight into a culture, fully committed actors

Don't see it if You need a happy story, don't enjoy or follow dialects

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Edgy

See it if You like to think & FEEL in your theater experiences. Mixes humor and tragedy in a plot that has more to do with family than race relations.

Don't see it if If you want light fluff. This is an exciting production of a play that's earned its status as a classic.

Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if You appreciate a classic that still resonates with its poignant depiction of how white privilege destroys the souls of whites and blacks.

Don't see it if You don't like intense depictions of the pain of white racism or a well-acted revival of a classic Fugard play that still hits home.

Also Don't miss it! Besides its message Master Harold and the Boys is good ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Thought-provoking

See it if you want to see Fugard tenderly, but not sappily direct his most prominent work with pitch perfect acting in an intimate setting.

Don't see it if See it!!

Also Mandatory viewing, especially if you sat thru the excruciatingly ill e... Read more Read less

Great acting, Masterful, Must see, Relevant

See it if You like masterfully written dialogue and an important, absolutely relevant story for our times coupled with incredible performances!

Don't see it if not relevant. It's a show that must be seen. An important message in these troubled political times.

Stellar acting, A first-class revival of a contemporary classic, Resonant, Great writing, Thought provoking given what is happening in our society today

See it if you are interested in one of the best plays of the 20th Century. Great trio of actors. Very thought provoking given our recent election.

Don't see it if just see it! It is worth it!!

Absorbing, Great acting, Edgy

See it if You enjoy political theater and talented actors

Don't see it if You have problems with dialect as it takes a little while to get into the rhythm

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great acting, Profound, Masterful

See it if It's moving and much needed in these troubled times. Bring tissues and take it all in. Beautifully done. So moving.

Don't see it if If you want a lighthearted play.

Exquisite, Great staging, Intelligent, Masterful, Thought-provoking

See it if You like a play with a "slow burn". The final punch to this show really comes as the lights fade to black and your mind starts turning.

Don't see it if You want a happy feel-good show or don't like shows with lots of layers to think about.

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Riveting, Relevant

See it if You like Powerful, verbally elegant, deeply touching theater that casts a clear light on the world of America today,privilege vs courage!

Don't see it if You don't want to understand what is happening in America today or see a play that will shatter your illusions about race, courage and grace

Also This play is why we create theater, it moved the entire audience and s... Read more Read less

Great acting, Great writing, Profound

See it if you enjoy a well-acted, well-written drama that flows seemlessly. Moving and thoughtfully portrayed. Bravo.

Don't see it if you do not like plays with little plot and small casts.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Riveting

See it if you want to feel the raw power of the human soul laid bare. Master Harold is just as poignant now as it was during the age of apartheid.

Don't see it if you require a great amount of spectacle or are uncomfortable talking or thinking about the nature of race and the way it affects our lives.

Also Nothing short of remarkable.

Relevant, Thought-provoking, Great writing, Great staging, Intense

See it if you have any interest in race relations in the context of S. African apartheid. This show is super relevant to US race relations as well.

Don't see it if you don't like conflict. Or if you want a clearly happy ending.

Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Must see

See it if want to see one of the best plays of the season (and much longer) All 3 cast members are superb

Don't see it if you only want to laugh and sing. although one does want to sing with love and understanding.

Also Although. we had seen the same show in 1962 with James Earl Jones and ... Read more Read less

Relevant, Profound, Must see, Masterful, Intelligent

See it if you want your theatre to be challenging but very worthwhile

Don't see it if you're in the mood for a very light-hearted affair

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Profound, Must see

See it if You enjoy moving, challenging, adult writing and flawless acting.

Don't see it if If you prefer light, fluffy entertainment only.

Masterful, Profound, Relevant, Resonant, Riveting

See it if you want to witness the definitive production of a classic.

Don't see it if you voted for Trump.

Great acting, Great writing, Absorbing, Intelligent, Profound

See it if you like Athol Fugard and his plays about South Africa. Still very moving and relevant even though it takes place in the 1950"s.

Don't see it if you don;t like plays with a message or with serious subject matter..

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Intense, Relevant

See it if Great acting. Painfully relevant, especially the day after our election. Fugard is a master story teller and the cast was excellent.

Don't see it if If you don't want to see painful personal and race dynamics.

Ambitious, Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Masterful

See it if You want to see the history of Apartheid in South Africa from a small cafe perspective.

Don't see it if Black rights are not your thing.

Intelligent, Intense, Great writing, Great acting, Relevant

See it if you are interested in seeing a powerful, perfectly paced one-act show that delves deep into the ugliest parts of the human soul.

Don't see it if you want your theatrical experiences to be light and fluffy with a happy ending.

Absorbing, Great acting

See it if You appreciate Fugard at his best. It is particularly resonant today in view of current political climate. The acting is magnificent .

Don't see it if You are looking for a light entertainment.

Profound, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Intense, Great acting

See it if you want to see a play that hits you like a fist to the gut. Knocks the wind out of you. Scary relevance to who half our nation is today!

Don't see it if you don't like powerful plays that might make you think about who you are or the choices you've made.

Masterful, Must see, Relevant

See it if you love great writing and acting. This play just keeps getting better and more relevant (unfortunately).

Don't see it if can't bear the truth of how little things have changed over many decades as far as civil rights are concerned - here, there and everywhere.

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Masterful, Relevant

See it if you're interested in great acting and riveting theater about relevant race issues

Don't see it if you're just looking to be entertained and don't want to feel or think about your theater experience

Cast & Creatives (10)