Review: ‘The Miracle Worker’ at Rockville Little Theatre

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The Rockville Little Theatre’s production of The Miracle Worker written by William Gibson, produced by Dean Fiala and Emily Mullin and directed by Laura W. Andruski opened Friday, February 3, 2017, at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville, MD.

This play is based on the real life of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. Keller was born with all her senses but as a very young child became blind and deaf due to illness. Her family was a wealthy, Alabaman, post-Reconstruction one, and they tried to raise their child to their best of their ability. Finally, desperate to control her behavior and communicate with her, they hired a young, poor, Irish immigrant from Boston. Annie Sullivan had also dealt with vision loss and knew sign language.

Meredith Abramson as Helen Keller and Lena Winter as Annie Sullivan in ‘The Miracle Worker.’ Photo courtesy of Rockville Little Theatre.

Sullivan is really the focus of this drama. However, the part the multi-handicapped Helen is a huge challenge to any child. The role of Sullivan and Helen won a Tony and an Oscar for Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. The memory of their work can be intimidating, but Abramson and Winter are so outstanding and make these characters their own. Both deliver tour de force performances that are not to be missed.

Lena Winter is Annie Sullivan, the scrappy young teacher who herself suffers from poor eye sight. Winter is particular expert in capturing the emotions of Annie as the fish out of water. Sullivan grew up in abject poverty and now finds herself at odds with Helen’s genteel Southern family. Her scene with Helen at the little garden house is witty and warm.

Meredith Abramson is just a 5th grader at Rachel Carson Elementary School in Gaithersburg. She genuinely reflects the frustrations of the young isolated girl whose only way to communicate is through guttural utterances and, often, acting out behavior. She never seems to break character and she never appears to see or hear what is happening around her. Her performance is riveting.

Brian Lyons-Burke is Captain Arthur Keller and Heather Andrews is Kate Keller, Helen’s loving but desperate parents. They both are at their best in their scenes with their daughter, conveying the emotions of a father and mother who are facing a bleak existence for the child they often over indulge.

As James Keller, Helen’s half-brother, Jordan Clifford gives a nuanced performance as the member of the family who can be dispassionate about his much younger sister but yet understand Annie’s capabilities in helping his family find normalcy. His character matures before our eyes as he goes from petulant angry outsider to one with backbone, sensitivity, and good judgement.

Giving fine supporting performances are Steve Kaufman (Doctor), Julia Frank (Aunt Ev), Eric Henry (Anagnos), Miriam Bowden (Viney), Kameran Williams (Martha), Robin Handleman (Mrs. Hopkins), and Steve Kaufman (A Servant). Rebecca Julka, Alexandra (Xan) Julka, Ava Silberman, Samantha Penick, Zoe Fischthal, and Schuyler Weirshousky are also give heartwarming performances as the Blind Girls from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston.

A supporting cast standout was Connor Berry as Percy, the black servant who is about Helen’s age. His scenes with Helen and Annie capture the young boy who is thrust into this strange relationship he does not quite understand. Both Chris Penick and Henry Penick helped create off-stage voices.

Andruski’s staging and exceptional direction is artful, especially her work with Abramson shows an expertise in working with young actors. Maggie Modig’s multi-level set of the Keller home is visually interesting. The costumes by Sandy Eggleston are historically accurate, and the ones for Helen show us some the way her mother would have wanted her to seem) more of a doll than a real little girl. Also, a nod goes to Malca Giblin for creating set dressing and props that also are historically accurate with a special note to Helen’s dolls. Chris Pennick does a fine job as Sound Designer. Stephen Deming as Lighting Designer is excellent in crafting the scenes away from the home (Boston, a train station and garden house where Helen and Annie go to live for two weeks).

In the end The Miracle Worker is a story about our need to communicate with each other through language. It is through Helen’s “dialogue” with Annie that she become a person in her own right.

During this mid-winter time when we all tend to hibernate a little, get out of your own isolation and come down to the theater and see Rockville Little Theatre’s outstanding and moving production of The Miracle Worker.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with an intermission.

The Miracle Worker plays on weekends from February 3 through 12, 2017 at Rockville Little Theatre performing at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre – 603 Edmonston Drive, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 314-8690, or purchase them online.

LINKS:
Interview: Meet the Cast of ‘The Miracle Worker’ at Rockville Little Theatre. Part 1: Meredith Abramson.

Interview: Meet the Cast of ‘The Miracle Worker’ at Rockville Little Theatre. Part 2: Lena Winter.

Interview: Meet the Cast of ‘The Miracle Worker’ at Rockville Little Theatre. Part 3: Brian Lyons-Burke.

Interview: Meet the Cast of ‘The Miracle Worker’ at Rockville Little Theatre. Part 4: Jordan Clifford.

Note: American Sign Language interpretation will be available on Friday, February 10th.

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