Aldersgate Church Community Theater presents William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker, directed by Eddie Page, and produced by Eddy Roger Parker and Shelagh Roberts.
I’ve always loved this beautiful chronicle of Anne Sulllivan’s struggle to teach language to her blind and deaf student, Helen Keller. After reading Keller’s autobiography Story of My Life, I promptly bought a copy of the 1962 drama The Miracle Worker and it became a treasured favorite. After adding the 1979 and 2000 editions to my collection, I knew the dialogue line-by-line. Being such a fan of this piece already, I’ll admit the stakes were high as I took a seat at Aldersgate. I felt a sense of protectiveness for a story I had grown up admiring.
Please be good, I thought. Please, please, please be good.
It wasn’t just good– it was fantastic!
Set Designer Ken Cahoon takes us in and around the Keller homestead in Tuscumbia, Alabama. The set is mammoth, and must have been quite the challenge for master carpenters TJ Downing, Kyle Roberts, and their respective team. De Nicholson-Lamb paints the set in rich tones, and Set Dressers Susan Driscoll Blout and CJ Mikowski use ornate wooden furniture to decorate the lavish home.
Costumers Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley work with Jean Coyle to create a wardrobe fit for the late 1800’s upper-class; three-piece suits and long dresses with intricate detail. Master Electrician Marg Soroos made sure the technical elements ran smoothly, including sound cues by designer David Corriea (tech crew: Rebecca Balough) and lighting by Marzanne Claiborne (tech crew: Sarah Strzalka). Cues such as whistling trains and the clip-clop of a horse-and-buggy enhance the atmosphere, while lighting is cleverly used to help distinguish an unsettling subplot by shrouding the stage in an unpleasant green tinge whenever Anne has a flash-back to her nightmarish past.
Captain Arthur Keller (Rich Amada) and his wife Kate (Emily Golden) are desperate for help with their daughter Helen, who has been deaf and blind since infancy. Trapped in a world of solitude, Helen (a truly impressive performance by young actress Lucy Roberts) is little more than a wild animal, unable to communicate with those around her and existing in a state of isolation and panic. She becomes a downright danger to herself and her surroundings, highlighted in a scene where she knocks over her baby sister’s crib, and her parents are facing the heartbreaking decision to institutionalize their daughter if they cannot find a way to reach her. Enter Annie Sullivan (Meghan Landon), a young graduate of the Perkins Institute for the Blind, and the Keller family’s last hope.
What follows is the struggle of a lifetime. Annie’s strong, disciplined nature clashes with the Kellers, who have spoiled Helen rotten in their attempts of keeping her thunderous tantrums at bay. When Helen bites Annie and is then immediately given candy, the shocked Annie proclaims, “Why does she get a reward for biting me?” Annie comes to believe that Helen’s biggest hindrance is not her disabilities, but her family’s pity…which is an even more damning obstacle.
Through regimental training (and a few room-wrecking tantrums), Annie is able to get Helen to sit still and behave. The Kellers are content with this progress, but Annie wants more for Helen than just basic obedience– Annie wants Helen to have every opportunity the world is able to offer, saying, “I treat her like a seeing child because I expect her to see.” Tempers rise and clash as the determined Annie struggles to not only get through to her Helen, but to her family as well.
Overall, the acting is superb. Luke Simonsen drawls lazily as the haughty James Keller, and Karen Dadey is humorous as the stiff, upper-crust Aunt Ev. I also especially enjoyed Emily Golden’s performance as Helen’s mother, who refused to give up hope on her daughter even when the situation was depressingly bleak.
Who you will really remember, though, is Meghan Landon and Lucy Roberts as Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. Annie and Helen’s unique bond is an incredibly story to watch develop, and they capture it beautifully, starting out as near enemies to ultimately become each-others life-preservers.
A truly beautiful story that is exceptionally well acted, I highly recommend Aldersgate Church Community Theater’s production of The Miracle Worker.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, plus one 15-minute intermission.