Review: ‘The Road to Mecca’

Athol Fugard's "The Road to Mecca" makes its L.A. bow in a production that sparkles on so many levels, it's hard to tell which element shines most brightly.

Athol Fugard’s “The Road to Mecca” makes its L.A. bow in a production that sparkles on so many levels, it’s hard to tell which element shines most brightly. Fugard’s carefully crafted script — inspired by a real-life South African artist — uncovers, layer by glistening layer, the terror of an elderly woman cowed by her fear of a creative black hole and her struggle to reclaim the artistic light that guided her.

First to catch the eye is John Patrick’s dazzling set — a house gloriously illuminated with lanterns and candles, colored glass bottles, mirrors and glittering yellow walls. Everything in Mecca revolves around light, which is used physically onstage, and creatively and metaphorically within the text.

Ovation winner Kathi O’Donohue could well be a contender again in this year’s contest with a beautifully nuanced lighting design that descends gently into the night, laces the walls with graceful shadows and warms the room with an incandescent glow.

Striking performances are offered by all three performers: Priscilla Pointer as the eccentric Miss Helen; Jacqueline Schultz as her feminist friend, Elsa Barlow; and Robert Symonds as the concerned reverend, Marius Byleveld. Under the subtle direction of Stephen Sachs, these and all other elements are woven together into one brightly shining whole.

“The Road to Mecca” concerns Miss Helen, a reclusive artist in a small South African village, who copes with her husband’s death by transforming her house into an extraordinary work of art and light. Strange statues crowd her yard, and brilliant colors bounce off mirrors and other reflective ornaments in her home. Deemed crazy by the locals, and concerned that she is a danger to herself, Rev. Byleveld pressures her to move into a church-run old folks home. Confused and uncertain, Miss Helen turns to her only true friend, Elsa, for advice. Elsa, in turn, helps Miss Helen discover what she really wants and how to fight for it herself.

Beneath the obvious story lie themes of respect, dignity, apartheid, friendship, creative expression and love. Each character is journeying somewhere, led by their own light, and searching for one or more of these needs. How they find them, and what they do with them, makes for fascinating theater.

Special commendations go to dialect coach Nadia Venesse for eliciting impeccable accents from the cast, and to Eileen’s Prop & Set Dressing Shop for the magnificent set dressings and outside statuary.

The Road to Mecca

The Fountain Theatre; 70 seats; $22


The Fountain Theatre presents a drama in two acts written by Athol Fugard. Directed by Stephen Sachs.


Set, John Patrick; lighting, Kathi O'Donohue; costumes, Shon Le Blanc; sound, Peter Stenshoel. Opened Feb. 18, 2000; reviewed March 2; closes March 19. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.


Miss Helen - Priscilla Pointer Elsa Barlow - Jacqueline Schultz Marius Byleveld - Robert Symonds
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