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Theater Review: 'The Road to Mecca' -- 1.5 stars

Jim Dale, left, Carla Gugino, center, and Rosemary

Jim Dale, left, Carla Gugino, center, and Rosemary Harris in “The Road to Mecca.” (Joan Marcus) Credit: Jim Dale, left, Carla Gugino, center, and Rosemary Harris in “The Road to Mecca.” (Joan Marcus)

The Road to Mecca
1.5 stars

Having trouble falling asleep? A pill won't do the trick? Just try sitting through the Roundabout Theatre Company's painfully boring revival of Athol Fugard's 1987 drama "The Road to Mecca."

Although the production features a fine cast including Rosemary Harris, Jim Dale and Carla Gugino, it's about as exciting overall as watching paint dry.

Fugard, a lauded South African playwright, is best known for his dramas exploring the devastating effects of apartheid, most especially "Master Harold and the Boys." His work is being explored this season by Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company, which will revive "Blood Knot," "My Children! My Africa!" and "The Train Driver."

"The Road to Mecca" is not exactly one of Fugard's finest works. Although the subject of apartheid comes up once in conversation, it is essentially a simple tale of individuality and conformity.

Harris plays Miss Helen, an aging, artistic widow who has transformed her tiny home into a unique visual masterpiece. It is unclear whether she is mentally unbalanced.

Marius Byleveld (Dale), the local reverend, wants her to give away her home and move into a retirement facility. But Elsa Barlow (Gugino), a schoolteacher and Miss Helen's close friend, is suspicious of the reverend's motives.

The conflict - whether or not Miss Helen will agree to leave her home - doesn't even come up in conversation until the very end of Act 1. Before that, the audience is subjected to the repetitive and verbose chitchat between Elsa and Helen. Much later on, Elsa and the minister debate various social issues, and new info about Miss Helen's well-being is revealed.

All three actors would benefit from bringing more passion to their performances. Although their characters are credibly portrayed, they approach them so gently that it makes this lightweight play feel even more insubstantial.

If you go: "The Road to Mecca" plays at the American Airlines Theatre through March 4. 227 W. 42nd St., 212-719-1300,

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