Written by Alina Mae Wilson
There is something drippy and self-important about naming a piece”The Miracle Worker”. Along with words like “angel” and “blessed”, “miracle” manages to sound as though it’s trying to make you tear up before the plot’s been introduced. Based on the true-life experiences of famed deaf and blind author Helen Keller and her teacher/lifelong friend Anne Sullivan, this is the sort of passion-driven story that if done right will have your attention from beginning to end. The Attic Community Theater’s production had me blinking, but not for very long.
I describe Helen Keller above as an author, but in truth she is more–her descriptions range from political and social activist, to lecturer, to the first deaf & blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. She revolutionized the way American people treated others with disabilities. But “The Miracle Worker” is not a play about her triumphs in the public eye–it is the story of what could be described as her most vulnerable stage, and the singular person who comes to aid her in her plight. In the play we get to watch the isolating effect Helen’s physical limitations have on her and her entire family. In desperation the family reaches out to a doctor who recommends the young and visually impaired but still tough Annie Sullivan. With sheer willpower she battles to break through the wall that has been set firmly around her young charge.
The play’s set is appropriate, and the costumes are suitable for the time period. When so many community theaters simply don’t have the funds for semi-realistic looking costumes and props, this trait can be considered a genuine delight. The stage is casually divided up into sections so that each mini-set is a different area in the story. Every location in the play is conveyed easily enough so that we don’t have to suffer through abrupt and distracting scene changes.
The best part of the show is the acting between Helen (Lily Horns) and Annie Sullivan (Sarah McGuire). Horn is in the zone as Helen. She makes it quite clear why she was cast in this part. McGuire’s Annie is both youthful and petulant, and she shines as a lead performer every moment on stage. The chemistry between her and Horns is hands-down the best part of the show. While Horns isn’t often speaking lines, for the most part she manages to match the energy the script expects of her. That being said, there is a fairly climactic moment in the show that turned out to be somewhat uneven. While McGuire’s character seems appropriately amped, Horn’s…is not. I mention this because it is a vitally important moment in the story, and to not have Horns on the same level as McGuire diminishes the excitement of the scene.
My other issue was the direction of the Keller family. Wow, these people are boring. I’m not talking about forgotten lines or prop mistakes, I’m talking about the distinct lack of energy when Annie is not around. Helen is blind, deaf, and running amok, but the pain and stress that would be tangible in such a situation just isn’t there. Special mention however does go to Colton Dillion (James Keller) for his effort in upping the angst.
Although I have my problems with the family scenes, McGuire and Horns performance shined over everything that night. Horns’ vibrancy is infectious and McGuire’s passion makes you want to stand up and cheer. As well as being fit for the family, I should also note that this show is beautifully educational–young relatives will want to go home and read up on the history of Helen Keller while practicing their sign language.
There is ample leg room in the aisles of the Attic Theatre, and sufficient cushion in the seats, which makes physical comfort an actual factor. Speaking of comfort, try the brownies.