The Road to Mecca

The South African accents might stray, but our attention doesn't


Through Feb. 26

Tickets are $13-20


The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at O'Farrell), Sixth Floor, S.F.

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In the middle of the desolate South African karroo wilderness, the widowed Miss Helen tirelessly builds her "Mecca." Far from being a hallowed destination for international pilgrimages, the old lady's version of the holy city -- a fantastical construction of concrete owls and mermaids, candles, glitter, fragments of mirror, and beer bottles -- keeps most people away. Second Wind's staging of Athol Fugard's profound and touching play about one woman's drive toward self-expression and independence in a hostile, God-fearing desert community transforms the dreary, low-ceilinged Phoenix Theatre into an oasis of color and light. The gentle warmth of Linda Ayres-Frederick's performance as Helen keeps the sadness and anger of her character bubbling just below the surface. In contrast, Andi C. Trindle Walker, as the young, idealistic schoolteacher Elsa, who drives 800 miles across the karroo from Cape Town to see Helen, is all forthright hotheadedness above and softness below. Evren Odcikin's careful direction draws out the differences between these two main characters, while Fred Sharkey's snug, ramshackle set, with its tatty furnishings and bright, homemade decorations, creates a nestlike sense of community. The South African accents might stray now and again (Dennis McIntyre, as local pastor Marius, sounds more like someone you'd hear around the real Mecca than an Afrikaner), but our attention doesn't.

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