There's a point in "The Road to Mecca" when the central character is described as brighter than the myriad candles that surround her.
That's also the case with
Fugard takes his time revealing the layers of his characters to the audience, but the payoff after a bout of slow-going early on satisfies.
Director Aradhana Tiwari smartly lets Fugard's words work their magic on two layers. On the surface, "The Road to Mecca" is a simple story about whether a widow should leave her beloved house for a
Fugard, the South
Miss Helen (Robin Olson) was widowed 15 years before the play's start and ever since, she has found a new lease on life through artistry. She makes large concrete figures — a Nativity's wise men, camels, owls — decorates them with glass and glitter, and then displays what she calls her "Mecca" in her front yard.
This doesn't sit well with her conventional small-town neighbors who have definite ideas how a widow should behave. But it does inspire Elsa (Ginger Lee McDermott), a much younger woman to strike up a friendship with the eccentric artist. Things come to a head when the town minister (Joe Candelora) tries to persuade Miss Helen to move to a nursing home.
Elsa has an angry, abrasive introduction, and McDermott does a fine job of piquing audience members' interest in this brash woman without turning them against her. Candelora projects a suave assurance in his devotion to the status quo, then is effectively off balance when that assurance is shaken.
Olson makes a heartwarming — but never cutesy — free spirit. She's no cliché-spewing artist, but a sweet, flustered, unworldly woman whose face radiantly reflects the joy found by fulfilling one's soul.
Fugard employs the kind of imagery that a high-school English teacher would have a field day with: the analogy of lightness vs. dark, the use of Mecca as the endpoint of a journey, a story from restless Elsa about a woman named Patience.
Yes, it will take the audience some patience to travel this road, but it is a road worth taking.
'The Road to Mecca'
• What: Mad Cow Theatre production of an Athol Fugard play
• Length: 2:20, including intermission
• Where: Mad Cow Theatre, 54 W. Church St., Orlando
• When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 11
• Cost: $34; pay-what-you-wish performance at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7
• Call: 407-297-8788