Review: THE ROAD TO MECCA at Z Below

A Gut-Wrenching Portrayal of the Human Will When Tested by Outside Influences

By: Jun. 15, 2023
Review: THE ROAD TO MECCA at Z Below
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They say there’s a thin line between madness and genius. Aging widow Helen finds herself caught in a battle between her artistic freedom and conservative moralism. The battle plays out in an attempt to move her from her eccentric, fantasy-filled home to an old-age home supposedly for her safety. Athol Fugard’s award-winning play comes to life with three of the finest acting performances in recent memory.

Actor Wendy vanden Heuvel (Helen) delivers a gut-wrenching portrayal of a woman devoted to her artistic visions, at the price of alienating herself from her community and religious faith. Frail and conflicted, vanden Heuvel’s emotional arch is authentic and both delicate and eventually powerful. Fearing the dark, Helen surrounds herself with candles with “tears of wax” that make her feel safe.

Review: THE ROAD TO MECCA at Z Below
Miss Helen (Wendy vanden Heuvel) and Elsa (Kodi Jackman) light a candle 

Elsa Barlow (Kodi Jackman), Helen’s long-distance friend comes to her aid after receiving a distressing letter. She’s there to support but is mired in her personal drama that requires her friend’s assistance. Her character represents the new anti-apartheid forward thinking of South African circa 1974.

Broadway actor and Bay Area theatre veteran Victor Talmadge plays pastor Marius Byleveld, who appears at the end of Act One. We know he’s advocating for Helen to sign the paperwork committing her to an old age home run by his church. Initially his argument seems legitimate- Helen almost burned down her home and her safety is an issue. But when confronted by Elsa, another, more sinister motive becomes apparent – Marius deems her artwork idolatry, adding a religious moralism aspect.

Review: THE ROAD TO MECCA at Z Below
Marius (Victor Talmadge) and Miss Helen (Wendy vanden Heuvel) share a memory

Set in Erik Flatmo’s intricately appointed set design, you can sense Helen’s creative spirit. Fugard poses a tricky dilemma here – how do you balance eccentricity with practicality when it comes to aged care? Who makes those decisions and under what conditions? There’s also a beautiful subplot with Elsa’s love life that shakes her trust. Can there be love without trust? The Road to Mecca, referring to Helen’s fantasy pilgrimage to Mecca, glows like the many candles that fill her life with light. Timothy Near’s direction and the acting is flawless, providing a touching perspective on the human will when tested by outside influences.

The Road to Mecca continues through June 30th. For tickets ($25) and more information the public can visit

Photo Credit: Kevin Berne