Set in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 1950, this powerful three-character play considers the interwoven relationships of young Harold (Hally), the seventeen-year-old son of the white proprietor of a tea room, and two of the African men who have worked there for years. Hally, unable to depend on his alcoholic father, now living in an institution, has always depended on Sam, the waiter, for guidance and knowledge about the real world. They share a long history in which Sam has been very much a father substitute for Hally, who has always shown him respect. Willie, the custodian, who also looks to Sam for guidance, plans to participate, along with Sam, in a ballroom dancing competition in two weeks. For them, dancing "is beautiful because that is what we want life [in South Africa] to be like." In real life, however, "none of us knows the steps...we're bumping into each other all the time." As the play progresses, the three men reminisce, talk about their ideas of what constitutes a great hero, and show their easy relationship with each other. A phone call announcing that Hally's father is being released from the hospital upsets the equilibrium, however. Hally, morose and worried about the future, fears that his father will once again destroy his world. Taking out his anger on Sam and Willie, he tears at their dreams regarding the dancing contest, mocking their goals and becoming cynical about what the contest means to them. As his frustration grows, Hally hurts them as he has been hurt by his father, demanding ultimately that both men call him "Master Harold." Based on an incident in the life of the playwright, who was strongly opposed to the policies of apartheid which began in South Africa around 1948, this powerful and poignant drama casts Sam, a black man, as a person of vision and nobility. Hally, a young white man, chooses to exert power, instead of being human, and shows that he is a lesser man than either Sam or Willie. Less a political drama than a human one, the play rises above its immediate setting to consider universal feelings and human relationships. Mary Whipple
This is the first edition of the play published in New York when it had only been performed in the USA. It gives full details of that production and two good photographs of the cast, one on the dust wrapper. Anyone wanting details of subsequent productions should try a later edition. This one will be of interest to scholars who may wish to look to see if Fugard made any subsequent amendments to his text.