Oscar E Moore

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THE ROAD TO MECCA – starring Rosemary Harris is worth the trip. Just be patient.

January 21st, 2012 by Oscar E Moore


Patience is a virtue.  And if you are lucky enough to possess this positive trait you will be rewarded greatly with a trio of outstanding performances when you go to see Athol Fugard’s THE ROAD TO MECCA starring Rosemary Harris, Carla Gugino and Jim Dale at the American Airlines Theatre – a Roundabout Theatre production.  I urge you to see this most interesting play that extols the freedom of expression and has great compassion for growing old.

In today’s fast paced society we have no patience for things that take too long to unfold.  Quick scenes.  Fast paced, clever dialogue.  Get to the point ASAP.  Well, In THE ROAD TO MECCA that takes place in the small Karoo village of New Bethesda South Africa in the autumn of 1974, Mr. Fugard takes his time exploring the relationships and revealing the story of his three characters – one who appears at the very end of Act I. 

Act I deals with Miss Helen (a spry Rosemary Harris at 84 years of age, Bless her! giving a commanding and deeply layered portrayal) who lost her husband 15 years ago and has created her own “Mecca” of beauty and freedom by creating statues of owls and peacocks and mermaids out of cement in her garden and bathed her modest home, full of bric-a- brac, in candlelight and an unexpected visit from her long time, much younger friend Elsa Barlow (Carla Gugino – who brought back memories of a young Glenda Jackson.)

Elsa has driven 12 hours from Cape Town to spend one night with her friend Miss Helen because of a disturbing letter that she has received from her.  In the past Miss Helen has encouraged Elsa, a teacher, to think outside of the box.  To be independent.  To be a free and forward thinker.  Her unexpected visit prompts Miss Helen to ask for help.  She is old.  Confused.  She is frightened of the dark more than ever.  And yet, extremely independent.

The set designed by Michael Yeargan shows off the personality of Miss Helen beautifully.  Painted in shades of red and orange it appears to be a reflection of a desert sunset and a lifelong obsession with collecting.  The lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski skillfully allows the characters to be seen even when candles are seemingly the only source of light.  It is a gorgeous, calming effect when so many candles illuminate the stage.

Of course, with a woman in her seventies, afflicted with arthritis and living alone one is afraid of accidents pertaining to fire that could happen – which through the local Pastor Marius Byleveld (a cunning Jim Dale) who has conflicting feelings for Miss Helen we eventually find out has been the case. 

And so he is trying to persuade Miss Helen to leave her home and her “hobby” to reside in the “Sunshine Home for the Aged.”  All she has to do is sign on the dotted line!  Sign away her life.

Yes, THE ROAD TO MECCA is a bit repetitive and goes along at its own leisurely pace but with such winning actors delivering the exposition and inhabiting their characters so honestly with the help of director Gordon Edelstein who has confidently guided them to their own Mecca – it is well worth the trip.

www.roundabouttheatre.org  Limited engagement through March 2nd.

Photo:  Joan Marcus

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