(photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)
by Zoe Erwin-Longstaff
The beginning of The Road to Mecca, now playing at Soulpepper’s Michael Young theatre, is jarring. A young schoolteacher, Elsa (Shannon Taylor) bursts on stage and crankily snaps at her unsuspecting hostess, Miss Helen (Diana Leblanc). An elderly widow, Miss Helen lives in the Afrikaans small village in South Africa and Elsa has travelled 12 hours from Capetown for this visit – why? We’re not sure. On the highway she ran into a poor African woman carrying her newborn baby in the stifling heat. It is this kind of injustice that incenses Elsa, and she has a vituperative way of taking it out on Miss Helen. But what is slowly revealed through the first act is a foundation of fondness between the two women. Furthermore their exchanges do aptly demonstrate different kinds of rebellions. For all her tongue-lashings, Elsa deeply respects Helen, with her quiet but powerful bucking of the status quo, her steadfast commitment to her art at all costs.