ASR Theater ~~ “The Road To Mecca” – The Soul Selects Her Own Society

By George Maguire

Weathervane Productions is a collaborative collective created in 2014 by Wendy vanden Heuvel. At Z-Below, the company is presenting a deeply enriching telling of South African writer Athol Fugard’s The Road To Mecca.

Fugard (Master Harold and the Boys, Sizwe Bonzi is Dead, A Lesson From Aloes) based this work on the real life of Helen Martins, an aging woman of the Karoo township, facing late life decisions which will disrupt her path of creating her Mecca garden of statuary.

…the play is riveting…

Whether Mecca, Canterbury or Lourdes, we are all on a journey towards fulfillment. Helen sees her greatest joy in creating a massive statuary of owls, camels, peacocks and indeed people, as a visionary celebration of what the mind can conceive and the art that hands can fashion. These huge and disturbing abstract reliefs are anathema to neighbors convinced that Helen is losing her faculties and needs to be moved to an assisted living facility.

Fugard’s play is a miasma of words rather than action with racism, art activism, and trust above all, shadowing over the proceedings. He brings into Act 1 a much younger friend, Elsa Barlow, who has driven all night from Cape Town to check in on Helen.

Miss Helen (Wendy vanden Heuvel) and Elsa (Kodi Jackman) share a laugh in Athol Fugard’s “The Road to Mecca,”. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne

Their long conversatio motivates the first act and circumnavigates commonplace issues until it finally settles on whether Helen should sign a paper brought to her by the Dominee of the church allowing herself to have her house sold and for her to be moved to a “small but comfortable” room in the assisted living home. It is a listening journey we the audience are required to join and at times, I must admit I wanted it say “Get to the point!”

When that happens, and we enter Act 2, the play is riveting.

The play is directed with delicate precision and grace by Timothy Near. Eric Flamo’s set with wonderful assistance by properties master and set decorator Leah Hammond gives us a peak at what we cannot see but only can conjure in our own imagination – the Mecca that Helen has created.

With glimmering shards of glass and tiles, specific and perfect set pieces in a room illuminated by Maxx Kurzunski’s candle designs and gloriously lit by Kurt Landismann’s lambent lighting, we enter the world of imagination. Seeing what Helen has created in her living space, we can only imagine what she has created in her back acreage.

The cast of three is led by Wendy vanden Heuvel as Miss Helen, giving a performance of depth, pain, and always surprising choices as she brings us into Helen’s world. We can actually see in our minds the garden of Mecca that Helen has created – each statue oriented toward the east, toward Mecca. Ms. Vanden Heuvel gives a magnificent performance of grace and power. Kodi Jackman plays Helen’s young guest with variety and warmth – yielding the ground to Miss Helen’s fluctuating eccentricities.

Marius (Victor Talmadge) and Miss Helen (Wendy vanden Heuvel) share a memory in Athol Fugard’s “The Road to Mecca,” performing June 4-30 at San Francisco’s Z Below.
Photo Credit: Kevin Berne

Act 2 brings us Victor Talmage’s Reverend Marius Byleveld. In a role which some might see as a controlling and indeed heartless person of the cloth, Talmage brings sympathy and true caring even as he attempts to assuage Helen’s fears of signing the document.

The real Helen Martin’s work stands still today: “The Owl House” is a National Heritage Site in Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa.

If words and mind manipulations can conjure your joy, this is a play for you. Fugard is still with us, making our hearts sing in uplifted joy.


ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact:


ProductionThe Road to Mecca
Written byAthol Fugard
Directed byTimothy Near
Producing CompanyWeathervane Productions
Production DatesThru June 30th
Production AddressZ-Below
470 Florida St
San Francisco, CA
Telephone(415) 626-0453
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----