You might know her as the old lady in the Spider-Man movies, but theater aficionados have long treasured Rosemary Harris as the Tony-winning presence from The Lion in Winter, Heartbreak House, two productions of The Royal Family, and too many other classics to mention.
At 84, she’s at the top of her game in the revival of Athol Fugard‘s 1984 play The Road to Mecca, about an eccentric widow who lives among her concrete statues in a South African village where she’s been self-exiled and misunderstood, an iconoclast whose work is her supreme validation.
Harris is riveting, whether digging into her musty memories or just sitting still and absorbing the other two characters’ thoughts.
And there are a lot of them.
The first act is a talky match-up of Harris’s Miss Helen and Elsa (Carla Gugino), a Cape Town teacher and admirer who’s taken the long drive over to Miss Helen’s concrete jungle to challenge her to make the right choices for herself.
At the end of the act, the local minister (Jim Dale) arrives to urge Helen to sell her house and move into an old age home, paving the way for some actual drama in the second half — dialogue about Miss Helen’s controversial past and how it impacts decisions about her uncertain future.
Gugino and Dale are excellent as the dissenting voices, but it’s Harris who expertly embodies the spirit of the artist in the middle of their debate, giving a turn so luminous that Miss Helen’s candles are barely needed.
She captures Helen’s confusion, and ultimately her resolve, with a radiant dignity that’s the result of decades of dedication and craft.
No jukebox songs. No gimmicks. Just pure love and commitment. Take this Road.