- Love, trust, creativity, forgiveness, aging - these are some of the thematic
strands that are woven into the artistic tapestry of “A Road to Mecca,”
presently playing by the Renaissance Theatreworks.
Fugard has spent his life writing about his homeland, South Africa. His work,
written in 1984 and recently revived on Broadway, does not tackle racial issues
as prominently as many of his works do, but it does hint at them in a few
scenes, especially in one where a young black woman is given a ride with her
infant on her long journey to uncertainty.
competent cast of three tells a story amid the beauty of a sculpture garden and
a house filled with mirrors and candles, based on the life of the foremost
outside artist Helen Martins, who lived and worked her unique magic in apartheid
South Africa. Lisa Schlenker deserves mention for her scenic design that
provided the backdrop.
Graham’s lighting design added to the ambience but could have highlighted some
of the unusual sculptures even more as the artist and her pastor discussed them.
I didn’t see the full beauty of them until I left the theater.
Stephens as Helen captures the mix of emotions experienced by the artist - her
passion for her art, her loneliness and isolation, her love for her young friend
Elsa and her ambivalence for her well-meaning but controlling pastor, Marius.
Stephens always delivers a strong, authentic performance.
story opens when Elsa, a teacher in Cape Town, pays an unexpected visit to Helen
in response to a depressed letter she had received from her. In their
conversation, we learn of their connection, as well as the struggles and losses
each has experienced. We also learn of Pastor Marius’ desire to put Helen in a
nursing home to keep her safe and to prevent her from creating any more of her
art, which is seen as demonic by the townsfolk.
well rendered by Jonathan Gillard Daly, is a decent man with good intentions but
limited vision. His concern for Helen is sincere but misguided.
young Elsa, powerfully portrayed by Bri Sudia, is idealistic and abrasive. Her
fierce admiration for Helen and her artistic talent can come across as myopic in
its intensity. The script is gripping at times and raises the issue of trust and
respect as the bedrock of a loving relationship, and both Elsa and Marius, from
different vantage points, are guilty of trying to manipulate Helen’s life and
deprive her of her right to make her own choices.
the aging is also a major emphasis here. Society’s tendency to confuse
chronological age with a person’s capabilities is strongly highlighted. How
many older people are stymied by false perceptions?
the drama drags a bit at times, the three characters are well-delineated, and
the many human issues raised in the story provide food for contemplation long
after the curtain closes.
to director Susan Fete and to local visual artist Katie Martin for her work in
producing countless owls with the help of many hands. Any playgoer is invited to
take home one of these creations as a souvenir.
larger sculptures will be auctioned off after the play closes April 28.
to Mecca” is based on the life of Helen Martin, whom playwright Athol Fugard
knew personally. He characterizes it as his most personal work. It is one of the
many Fugard plays that have been presented in the Milwaukee area by a variety of
theaters, and it is always a challenge and a treat to encounter another one.
to Mecca” runs through April 28 by the Renaissance Theaterworks at the Studio
Theater, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call
414-291-7800 or visit www.r-t-w.com