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The Miracle Worker

a Children's Theater
CATEGORY : DRAMA CHILDREN
by William Gibson

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 14th Street Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 1092

SHOWING : October 15, 2004 - November 14, 2004

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

William Gibson's Classic Bio-Play about Helen Keller is edited down to an intense, youngster-friendly look at the power of language and love.


CAST & CREW LIST
Fight Choreographer Jason Armit
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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The Workhorse Syndrome
by Dedalus
Thursday, October 28, 2004
3.0
No doubt about, William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker” is a workhorse. There is always a production somewhere in the world, and you can count on at least one local theatre mounting it every year or so.

The reasons are simple – even those uncomfortable with Helen Keller’s politics, are moved by her childhood struggle to come to terms with language. No other play shows the difference between “hard” and “soft” love so simply and affectively. And Annie Sullivan is a character any actress would give her left arm to sink her teeth into.

Alliance Children’s Theatre has mounted an edited-down, professionally-staged production that underscores why this play works so well.

Initially, I was impressed with the beauty of the production – leaf gobos and scattered elevations lets the action flow from scene to scene with breath-taking beauty and swift transitions. Megan Hayes gives us an Annie Sullivan we like from the get-go, who’s not afraid of showing her exasperation and impatience with her young charge, and who’s not afraid to go over the top to show her affection for Helen. Real-life spouses Mark and Tess Malis Kincaid offer us Keller parents who are as comfortable with each other as they are uncomfortable with the hand fate has dealt them. And Hannah Wilkinson is a delightful, aggravating, spoiled, intelligent, and, ultimately moving Helen – she’s a real find (although, too often, she’ll drop character in the transitions to find her way on and off stage – this can be blamed on directorial inattention as much as on inexperience). Finally, I was as moved by the final moments as I’ve ever been by any production or film of this material.

And yet and yet and yet …

Although I didn’t exactly come away from this production with a “been there seen that” feeling (always the dark side of the “Workhorse Syndrome”), I felt like there was something missing. And I’m durned if I can articulate exactly what the “something” could have been.

Maybe it was the editing – the intermissionless 90 minutes ran by smoothly, and seemed seamless and more intense than usual. So, maybe not.

Maybe the amber lighting and leafy ambiance suggested more a New England home out of O’Neill, than the Southern setting for the Keller House. But it captured the mood perfect. So, maybe not.

Maybe it was the idea of pitching this as a “children’s play” when the central character is a cranky, obsessive teacher who is haunted by the ghost of a dead brother. But the kids in the audience I saw this with were all enthralled. So, maybe not.

Maybe it’s just that the short running time made the final moments come too suddenly, so the emotion I felt was more the result of manipulation than of an “earned” reaction to real people encountering real problems. This seems the most likely. But, another dark side to the Workhorse Syndrome is that we have seen these characters and heard these lines so often, that any reaction needs to be manipulated, that an “earned” reaction is too difficult to achieve in the context of an entertainment pitched to kids. And maybe, just maybe, I resent that a little.

And that, my friends, as just an old fart’s jealousy at the pleasure of young folk seeing this workhorse for the first time. At seeing these wonderful characters and hearing these wonderful lines for the first time, an experience I wouldn’t begrudge anyone.

So, to anyone, young or old, who has never seen this play, I would give it a strong 4-star rating. For anyone who has seen it, it is well done, beautiful to look at, and will probably move you to tears. Just be prepared to feel a little guilty for letting yourself be so moved.

--Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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