Roberta on the Arts
Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "The Road to Mecca" at the American Airlines Theatre
Contact Roberta
Jazz and Cabaret Corner
On Location with Roberta
In the Galleries: Artists and Photographers
Backstage with the Playwrights and Filmmakers
Classical and Cultural Connections
New CDs
Arts and Education
Onstage with the Dancers
Offstage with the Dancers
Upcoming Events
Special Events
Culture from Chicago
Our Sponsors

Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "The Road to Mecca" at the American Airlines Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

The New Yorker Hotel
The New Yorker Hotel is a historical,
first-class, landmark hotel.

481 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10001
(866) 800-3088

Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Managing Director
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director


Rosemary Harris, Carla Gugino
Jim Dale
The Road to Mecca

By Athol Fugard

Directed by Gordon Edelstein

At the
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 47th Street

Set Design: Michael Yeargan
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Original Music & Sound Design: John Gromada
Hair & Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Dialect Coach: Barbara Rubin
Production Stage Manager: Roy Harris
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA & Stephen Kopel
General Manager: Denise Cooper
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Director of Marketing - Sales Promotions: David B. Steffen
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Assoc. Artistic Director: Scott Ellis

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 19, 2012

Rosemary Harris, a veritable lady of the theatre, who has been reviewed in this magazine in The Royal Family, in a vivacious, vibrant role, appeared tonight as Athol Fugard’s dim, distraught Miss Helen, leading a trio of stars in his late 80’s The Road to Mecca. The scene is the Karoo village of New Bethesda, South Africa, 1974, and Elsa Barlow (Carla Gugino), is visiting Miss Helen’s remote, relic-filled home. Ms. Barlow is a devoted, youthful friend, one of Miss Helen’s rare acquaintances. She provides the emotional support so lacking in this desert section of 70’s South Africa, where the non-religious single woman, who chooses to live alone, in somewhat hermit-like existence, is being pushed to enter a home for the aged, by the village’s elderly Pastor, Marius Byleveld (Jim Dale), who exudes an unusual, creepy, invasive demeanor. Mr. Dale (of Barnum fame), here seems to extend from the shadows so shiny from the open windows, illumined by night sky. Speaking of illumination, Miss Helen, late in the play, lit her abode with dozens of real candles, so the entire American Airlines stage shone in surreal, silky flames.

The dialogue, especially in Act I, was tedious and endless, much too much language for such dark ambiance. There was snoring in the audience, an annoying distraction to absorbing the evolving back story. Ms. Helen is a sculptor, and the Pastor and his congregants assume that Miss Helen is worshipping her other-worldly statues, that adorn her yard. She keeps her life so private that her neighbors create their own concept of her existence, and Miss Helen could care less. She wants her space, her privacy, and her freedom to live life as she desires. The theme of religious zealots, passing judgment on those who don’t espouse their particular form of zealotry, is one in current social political conversation, and I wish that conversation had been more synthesized in this play. The wordiness and one-dimensional expressiveness in the monologues and dialogues were, at times, soporific, as mentioned above. But, Ms. Harris is an actor’s actor, and her every performance is a master class in stage presence and role immersion. Ms. Harris became Miss Helen, with rounded shoulders, a slowness in her gait, and an all-too-eager attempt to “entertain” and “host” her very tired guest.

Carla Gugino, always effervescent and impassioned (previously reviewed here in Desire Under the Elms), is a magnet to the viewer, and, even as Elsa Barlow, an activist schoolteacher, works on her papers side stage, one is acutely aware of her every move and gesture. Jim Dale, as Marius, the proselytizing Pastor, is severe, obsessed, persevering. Michael Yeargan’s cluttered set must have taken weeks to conceive, and Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting deserves kudos for the candlelit scene. Susan Hilferty’s costumes are appropriate to the setting, never drawing attention to themselves, except for Marius’ crisp, tall suit. John Gromada, who’s making quite a name for himself this season for sound and music design, created just the perfect interludes that expressed Miss Helen’s melancholy. Gordon Edelstein directed for understated evocation of Miss Helen’s plight, until the final scene, when impassioned directness brought energy to the moment. Athol Fugard’s play highlights eternal dilemmas of the human condition and of social-political-theological intrusiveness into one’s quality of life decisions.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at