The Road To Mecca
By Athol Fugard
Directed by Aradhana Tiwari
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL
If you haven’t bumped into this problem, you will eventually: an old friend or relative lives alone, takes care of themselves for a few decades, but now it might be time to, um, you know… Look out for their best interests. Down size. Make sure they get the support they need. Warehouse them.
Miss Helen (Robin Olson) lives in the remote South African desert, widowed and alone since she fell out with the church. Her energies point toward the east, she’s made a folk art replica of Mecca in her front yard. Pastor Marius Byleveld (Joe Candelora) has the paper work in hand to send her to the old folk’s home, but does he have an ulterior motive? Helen’s only friend Elsa (Ginger Lee McDermott) drives 12 hours to see her for one night, Helen’s that last letter was scary. The local natives think Helen’s a witch, and we examine the line between “free spirit” and raging loony. Should she sign or should she not? Was the fire an accident or intentional, and do the children throwing rocks really hate her or is that just their hobby?
With a dreamy new age set and more candles than a Kennebunk Port gift shop, we are clearly in a special place with Miss Helen. Robin Olson plays the role very close to what I know her as in real life – polite, hardworking, but with an independent streak and sense of purpose. As Miss Helen, she encompasses a decision many of have to make – when jobs and spouses disappear but we are still whole, how do we fill the hours? In her case, she sets herself to realize a private vision in a hostile land. Mc Dermott’s Elsa also exhibits independence and a strong moral compass, but she’s more aggressively challenging to the world around her. That makes here more of a lightening rod, and she does take a few hits. Candelora’s minister is the wild card, we start out suspecting that he’s making a play for the house, but by the end we have a completely different perspective, and he reveals himself as a loving man who truly does want the best.
There’s an element of Chekhov here, Road to Mecca is mostly concerned with internal arguments and strained relations between people who are close but in dire straits. The positions and arguments shift gradually like an ice cap breaking up, there is never much room to maneuver and long term goals remain that: long term. I admit the first act was bit frustrating, it seemed nothing was happening, but there was as secret pile of sand grains all about to tip over and cover the second act. I suspect this show won’t ease any decisions you might make with your parents, but it offers the hope a decent answer is always available.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com