Civil rights and politics of race are topic of WSCC play.

January 27, 2015
Justin Dietzel

Justin Dietzel

VICTORY TWP.  – “Profound intersections with America’s civil rights movement and our nation’s politics of race,” is how Dr. Rick Plummer, co-director of the West Shore Community College Performing Arts Series describes “MASTER HAROLD…and the boys,” a drama by acclaimed South African playwright Athol Fugard, which plays at the college Center Stage Theater for one performance only, Wed., Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m.

The production is being presented as part of the arts series by Michigan State University’s Wharton Center and its Institute for Arts and Creativity.

The full-length, 90-minute drama is, “One of the most moving plays I have ever experienced,” Plummer adds.  He says audiences should take note of the unique capitalization in the play’s title, as it represents the race issue and the central conflict at the core of the play.  He also recommends that the play is suited for adults and students from 9thgrade through college.

With the metallic clink of a coin in a jukebox and the scratch of a needle on a record, the character Willie utters the conclusive words, “Let’s dream” to his co-worker and head waiter Sam.  And so they do. Caught up in a whirlwind of post-World War II traumas and the suffocating tensions of racism in 1950s South Africa, the three actors of this masterpiece by Fugard bang and clash against their fluctuating society in this tale of hope, escapism, dark secrets, and the cruel power of language–creating what many consider one of the 20th century’s greatest plays.

Shawn Hamilton

Shawn Hamilton

Upon returning home from the comfort of his school, Hally, the son of a belligerent and bigoted father, finds Sam and Willie, black waiters in his mother’s restaurant, preparing for an upcoming dance competition. Talk of the past, of escaping through makeshift kites and dreaming of a world bearing no distinction of black and white, quickly gives way to a heated argument and hateful words that, once spoken, break the fabric of their relationship irreparably.

With the impending threat of Hally’s father’s return, Hally crumbles beneath the pressures of a discriminatory society and unleashes upon his friends all the hate and pain that have been building up inside him, treating Sam and Willie, for the first time, as subservient. In a world that thrives on the “principle of perpetual disappointment” and despises the progress of social reform, Hally, Sam, and Willie will fight against the strain of their overbearing society and attempt to stay afloat in the prejudiced world that threatens to drown them.

“MASTER HAROLD…and the boys” is brilliantly authored by Athol Fugard, recipient of the 1982 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards, as well as winner of the 2011 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement. Fugard is known for his dynamic and in-depth portrayals of apartheid in South Africa, as he was also awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver by the government of South Africa for “his excellent contribution and achievements in theater.”

In a setting that mimics America’s fluctuating world and ripe with the drama and uncertainty consistent with its time, “MASTER HAROLD…and the boys” brings the idea of acceptance and human value to the forefront of discussion. In Hally’s own words, “We need a definition of greatness,” and that desire has never been more pertinent.

The production features professional actor Gavin Lawrence as the emotional bedrock of the play, Hally’s surrogate father, Sam. Lawrence’s recent credits include Emperor Joseph in “Marie Antoinette” at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre, the title role of Franklin in “The Gospel of Franklin at Steppenwolf Theatre, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “The Mountaintop” at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati.

Other credits include such renowned professional regional theaters as the Goodman Theatre, Arena Stage, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Denver Center Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Guthrie Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and Kansas City Rep.  He has appeared off Broadway in “Pure Confidence” and was named Best Actor by the Minneapolis City Pages.  Lawrence is one of only five actors nationwide to receive the 2014 Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship for Distinguished Achievement.

Playing the role of Willie is professional actor Shawn Hamilton.  Shawn was last seen at WSCC in the Wharton Center production of “Garden of Joy.”  His most recent credits include “Marie Antoinette” at Stages Theater of Houston, ”Cyrano” at Park Square Theater of Minneapolis, “The Mousetrap” at Center Stage in Baltimore, “Appomattox” at the Guthrie Theatre, and  “A Civil War Christmas” at Main Street Theater in Houston.  He was recently named Best Actor of 2014 by the Houston Press awards for his portrayal of Simon in Stages Theater’s production of “The Whipping Man.”

Playing the title role of Master Harold is Justin Dietzel.  He has performed all over Michigan, including roles at Performance Network, What a Do Theatre, and at The Dio.  He has been seen in “Richard III,” “Almost Maine,” “A Few Good Men,” “Sweeney Todd,” “and in “Back County Crimes.”  He has acted in San Francisco and landed a principal role in Discovery Channel’s “I Almost Got Away With It.”

Tickets for “MASTER HAROLD…and the boys” can be reserved online, 24/7 at the college  Click on Performing Arts, the “Buy Tickets Now” tab, or call 843-5507.

For additional information about the production or the series, email Plummer at, or call him at 843-5928.

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