“Master Harold”…And the boys, Excaliber Shakespeare Company, at the Heartland Studio Theater. Athol Fugard’s allegory of South Africa under apartheid is straightforward: a boy barely in his teens must decide whether his loyalties lie with his dissolute (white) parents or his saintly (black) parent surrogates, Sam and Willie, the managers of his mother’s tea shop. But the performance of a play is a delicate thing, and Excaliber Shakespeare Company’s production of “Master Harold”…and the Boys is crippled at its outset by poor casting. Kevin Heckman as young Harold is competent and sufficiently youthful-looking, but his voice is unmistakably adult. This renders Harold’s composure pompous when it should seem precocious, his anger petulant when it should seem poignant, and his eventual capitulation to the status quo ugly and irreversible.

That’s too bad, because this production is potentially the most successful of those mounted by Excaliber. Director Darryl Maximilian Robinson, who also plays Sam, departs from his usual star-turn tricks to fashion some downright ensemble-oriented moments, effacing his characteristic grandiloquence to forge some nice tag-team chemistry with Gregory Christopher Armstrong’s slyly engaging Willie. (Robinson reverts to an operatic delivery for his final speeches, however.) But when a script consists wholly of three people talking, a single false note can destroy the harmony–even in a play with as much going for it as this one. –Mary Shen Barnidge