I have heard positive comments about the Pear Theatre in Mountain View from many people and I was very pleased to have the opportunity of visiting the theater to see “The Road to Mecca” by Athol Fugard, (Athol Fugard) playing through February 11, 2018. The play and the venue were a perfect match – the theater intimate, the play intense and powerful. The Pear Theatre, once located on Pear Avenue is currently located at 1110 La Avenida St, in Mountain View. The quality of the acting was superb and the “aftertalk” was an added treat, enhancing the performance.
According to Artistic Director Elizabeth Kruse Craig, (during the after talk), Fugard purchased a home not far from that of Helen Martins of New Bethesda and learned about her work but he never met her. The play focuses on Miss Helen but tells a story quite different from the life of the real Helen Martins. (Helen Martins)
Athol Fugard brings out so many aspects of life in South Africa that, even so many years after the play was written, it can directly apply, in part, to life in the United States today. In the background is the constant reference to racial problems. The role of women, young and old, submissive and independent is explored, as well as the question of, “what is freedom”?
Miss Helen is played masterfully by Diane Tasca. We first meet Miss Helen, a South African widow who is a recluse and artist, as she welcomes her young friend Elsa Barlow, a young teacher who lives in Johannesburg. Elsa has driven for twelve-hours through desert terrain to spend one night at her friend’s home, in order to help her. Briana Mitchell inhabits this role and the wide-ranging interaction between the women is remarkable.
The third character in the play is Reverend Marius played by John Baldwin, except for a few performances, and it was announced that, “ The role of Reverend Marius (played by John Baldwin) will be played by understudy (and Pear favorite!) Troy Johnson, with script in hand” – in the true spirit of “the show must go on”.
It is Miss Helen who is the center of the story. Reverend Marius who has been her friend for twenty years feels that, given her age and stage, she would be safer at the Sunshine Home, while Elsa believes she will be giving up her freedom and who she is, if she moves from her own home.
The fourth “character” in the play is the set. Again, inspired by the actual home of Helen Martins, the Owl House, which has become an important museum.
The design and crew team includes set designer Ting-Na Wang, sound designer Rachel Bratt, lighting designer Ben Hemmen, and stage manager Kelly Weber Barazza.
Pear Theatre began as the Pear Avenue Theatre in June 2002, under the leadership of Artistic Director Diane Tasca, by a group of theatre artists who believe that audiences are eager for plays that challenge as well as delight and move them.
Pear Theatre produces intimate theatre by passionate artists, whether classic works or cutting-edge plays. Now in its sixteenth season, The Pear attracts theatre artists and audience from all over the Bay Area for its award-winning and high-quality productions; and its ongoing commitment to excellence was recognized by the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle with the Paine Knickerbocker Award, an annual special award for a Bay Area company contributing to the high quality of theatre in the region. Pear Theatre moved in 2015 from its original 40-seat warehouse space to a new, state-of-the-art black box theatre close by, with capacity of 75-99 seats depending on the configuration of the production. This exciting move allows The Pear to continue its tradition of intimate theatre while taking on new challenges and opportunities. In August 2017, Betsy Kruse Craig took the helm as the new Artistic Director, beginning this season with South Africa’s conscience, Athol Fugard.
A 1991 film adaptation included Fugard himself as the Rev. Marius Byleveld, Kathy Bates as Elsa Barlow, and Yvonne Bryceland — the woman for whom Fugard wrote the part — as Helen.
With many twists and turns along the road to Mecca, this play is a gem. Do yourself a favor and get a ticket while you have the opportunity.
Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View
For information or tickets, visit thepear website or call (650) 254-1148.
All photos by Michael Craig/Pear Theatre