What is art? Everyone has their own definition, view, or idea of art. But who decides what kind of art is okay: the public or the artist? Does weird artwork make people weird or crazy? This is one of the main issues in The Road to Mecca on Broadway, now at the American Airlines Theatre.The Road to Mecca is set in Karoo, South Africa, and it tells the story of an elderly woman who has spent the years since her husband’s death transforming her home into an intricate and dazzling work of art. The reclusive Miss Helen (Rosemary Harris) has become depressed and appears increasingly unable to care for herself. Pastor Marius Byleveld, who embodies the village’s conservative values, is determined to get Miss Helen into an old-age home. Her friend Elsa (Carla Gugino), a young teacher from Cape Town who is deeply suspicious of the patriarchal traditions Byleveld represents, is just as determined that Miss Helen remain free.
The Road to Mecca is brought to life by a truly stunning cast all around. Rosemary Harris (The Royal Family, Lost in Yonkers) portrays Miss Helen, an old lady who has lost everything but her house and her artwork. Broadway is happy to see Harris back on Broadway, and she did not disappoint. She glowed as bright as all of the candles on stage even through all of her characters depression. Carla Gugino (Desire Under the Elms, After the Fall) is Elsa Barlow, an old friend of Miss Helen’s who just wants to see her happy and left alone. Gugino may have been the youngest and least experienced in this cast but that did not stop her from rising to the level of Dale and Harris. Gugino commanded the stage and kept the audience’s attention, even through those long growling monologues. Jim Dale (Threepenny Opera, Candide) plays Marius Byleveld, the town minister who is trying to get Miss Helen to move out of her house and move to an elderly home. Dale brings a comedic element to his character which helps speed up the dialogue and moves the plot along. This cast is the must see this season; but it’s up to public whether they want to endure the dragging script.
The Road to Mecca was off- Broadway about 24 years ago and maybe it ended its run because the script was just as bad then as it was today. If it weren’t for this incredible cast, Athol Fugard’s (Blood Knot, The Island) play would have fell flat on its face. The plot wasn’t revealed until forty five minutes into the first act, so the audience was left to endure set up and filler, which had most of them falling asleep in their seats. The set design was done by Michael H. Yeargan (That Championship Season, South Pacific). Yeargan truly made this set the work of art of Miss Helen’s dreams; it truly delivered the biggest wow factor of the season. Peter Kaczorowski (Venus in Fur, Anything Goes) designed the lights. He was left with a difficult challenge because Miss Helen’s house has no practical lights, only natural light and candle light. Kaczorowski took this bull by the horns and created a beautiful atmosphere. But do to the interesting writing; Kaczorowski was forced to keep the stage somewhat dark, which help the audience slip into a deep sleep.Although the cast is magnificent and the tech is spectacular, this is not the show to see this season. If you want to spend your money to sit through two and half hours of dragging dialogue, then The Road to Mecca is now playing at The American Airlines Theatre through March 4, 2012.