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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Review of "The Miracle Worker"

In recent weeks we have seen the photographs of children in wartorn regions, stunned, covered in blood, staring back at us uncomprehendingly, not even looking to us for answers anymore. If you’ve got any sand in you, you have to realize there are no throwaway children. There are no throwaway human beings.

For that reason along with many others “The Miracle Worker,” the story of Helen Keller, is as timely as ever. Her teacher, Annie Sullivan was warehoused as a child among throwaway people, and from the searing experience Sullivan was motivated to lead the blind and deaf Keller away from the danger of becoming yet another throwaway human.

Abby Murray-Vachon plays the miracle worker of this story, Annie Sullivan, who has been brought in by the Kellers to teach their daughter Helen. Murray-Vachon has distinguished herself in the many and varied roles she has portrayed during this memorable season at the Round Barn Theater. Partway through “The Miracle Worker” she delivers words that tear into the soul like few speeches in drama. The Kellers admit they have considered sending their daughter to a facility but did not like what they saw on visiting day.

With passion but also purpose we hear Annie Sullivan describe more than we would ever want to believe about the facilities where she was housed, telling what happens to the sick and dying, the babies brought there to die, and the rats which are the only toys Annie and her dying brother had for play during their bitter years when they were warehoused. This scene ought to leave you breathless.
You can’t have a great Annie Sullivan without a peerless Helen Keller. We have one in Hannah Shetler. Shetler invites us into a world of darkness and silence. Thanks to her dedication to her craft Shetler leaves us stunned and in tears when the walls are finally torn down and words spill into her world. Shetler’s performance can be summed up in three words: focus, will, and strength. Both Murray-Vachon and Shetler come through their clash of the titans richly displaying the love that is at the core of this story.

But this show is not a stern polemic. “The Miracle Worker” is filled with heart and humor. The sheer physicality of the two central roles leaves the audience exhausted and exhilarated. Here we see most clearly how Director Amber Burgess is able to draw upon her own experiences in playing Annie, guiding the actors through the no-holds-barred sequences with power and discipline.

The play is set in 19th century Alabama after the era of Reconstruction when African-American hopes were squelched. The servant family, played by Myesha-Tiara in the role of Viney, along with her children Martha and Percy, played by Brooklyn Redd and Charles Redd, play their parts with historical and cultural authenticity and integrity. Bravo.

Amelia Lowry, who plays a blind student and is the understudy for Helen, does a nice star turn in her brief but important role. The Keller family is portrayed by Tucker Curtis and Heidi Ferris in the roles of Helen’s parents, Revel Ferris-Curtis, who plays both Baby Helen and her sibling Mildred)Quinn Rattan as the older son James, and Rita Kurtz as Aunt Ev. Together they create a classic dysfunctional yet loving family torn to the breaking point by Helen.


I remember the original television broadcast of “The Miracle Worker” in 1962 with great fondness. Over the years I’ve had the chance to see “The Miracle Worker” performed on several stages. Direction, stage design, lighting, and sound (the latter essential for the flashback scenes that we hear and do not see), and of course acting -- this is the best production of “The Miracle Worker” I can remember. You must go see this.

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