'Road to Mecca' runs Thursday–Sunday, through Feb. 21 at Main Stage West. 104 N. Main St., Sebastopol. Thursday–Saturday, 8pm; 5pm matinee, Sunday. $15–$27. 707.823.0177. 'Bad Dates' runs through Feb. 21 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday matinee, 2pm. $25–$35. 707.763.8920
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HEARTFELT Helen (Laura Jorgensen), left, and Elsa (Ilana Niernberger) talk it out in 'The Road to Mecca.'
Mirrors are both set dressing and metaphor in a pair of recently opened plays in which the characters take a hard look at their world, their choices and their naked souls.
Set in a tiny South African community in 1974, Athol Fugard's three-actor The Road to Mecca, running at Main Stage West, was inspired by the life of Afrikaans artist Helen Martins, but takes fictional flights of fancy as fanciful as the cement sculptures of owls and camels Martins surrounded her house with.
Martins (Laura Jorgensen) a lapsed Christian, is feeling the encroaching darkness that first inspired her to fill her yard with such self-made creatures, and to cram her home with mirrors, mosaics and candles. Frail and uncertain, Helen considers relocating to a church-run retirement home, a move supported by her one-time minister, Marius (John Craven), who secretly loves her and worries about her soul. Opposing the notion is Martins' schoolteacher friend Elsa (Ilana Niernberger), a strong supporter of Martins and a fierce opponent of the church, who arrives from the city in a state of deep sadness and barely controlled rage, the reasons for which take most of the play to reveal themselves.
The resulting three-way showdown unfolds in gradual waves of emotion, revelation, self-recognition and a sense of heartbreaking and hard-won resolve. The set, designed by director Elizabeth Craven and David Lear, is a marvel. It's as much a character as everyone else in the play, a marvelous, thoughtful, deeply complex and human examination of the power of light, outside and in.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
Mirrors are equally prominent in Theresa Rebeck's one-woman comedy-drama Bad Dates, running at Cinnabar Theater. Starring Jennifer King and directed by Molly Noble, this is a ferociously funny rollercoaster of a show, in which a hard-working New York restaurant manager prepares herself for a series of dates, few of which turn out the way she hopes.
Observing her reflection as she tries on an array of outfits, King's marvelously performed "long night of the soul" includes hilarious descriptions of each date-gone-wrong, as she realizes that finding a person to love won't happen until she finally figures out what she really wants, and who she really is.