I had the good opportunity last night to see a performance of Arthol Fugard‘s “‘Master Harold’… and his boys” at the TimeLine Theatre in Chicago, and was impressed by a non-verbal technological touch pregnant with import. The play is very well acted, portraying the twisted human relationships that “master” whites and “free” but “servant” black Africans maintain in 1950s apartheid S. Africa.
In a climactic moment, Harold, the 17 year old child of an alcoholic does something that, because it is based on an understanding of the mechanism of alcoholism, serves as an unspoken cry of defiance that contradicts his words, which are running defeatist and bitter. As he is destroying his only humane relationships–with his two African male servants–Harold takes a bottle of brandy he is supposed to bring his drunkard dad later and dumps it out on the floor.
This act of defiance is directed at his off-stage father, and totally belies Harold’s words, which (trust me, I was there) are all about putting the black man down and joining up with his racist, drunk father. His words say one thing, but dumping the booze says something very different. If you’ve ever lived with an alcoholic (trust me, I was there), you know that removing the drink from the drunk is flicking a switch, breaking the circuit of disease (mechanistically viewed). Harold does so consciously, it seems, and in so doing he has mechanistically determined/set himself to collide with his father’s illness when he gets home. Out of that conflict, the audience can surmise, something less depressing than the play’s somber end can eventually transpire.
Or so one can hope. Though ultimately a futile act of symbolic defiance to an unstoppable disease, Harold’s messing with the machinery suggests that it is only through small technological acts–like ballroom dancing, or making / flying a kite–that humans can redeem their otherwise discouraging circumstances.
On a related note, the lecture by athiest Robert Sapolsky, “world renowned professor of neurology, neurological sciences, neurosurgery and biological sciences,” suggests to me that mechanistically viewed, homo sapiens sapiens may be designed to work toward ideals, that is, we evolve by pursuing impossible dreams. Get past the introductions and post/comment what you get from it.
“‘Master Harold’” runs through March 21st at its home–615 W. Wellington Ave. Image from the timeline website