THE MIRACLE WORKERBy William Gibson
Directed by Kenny Green
Asst. Director - Donna Maddamma
Stage Managers - Laurie Grissom and Karen Hurtado
Set Design ? Ellen Mizener
Lighting Design ? Paul Pennington
Costume Design ? Matt McNeill
Sound Design ? Jeff Mizener
A Doctor - Dan Duncan
Kate Keller - Caitlin Mills
Captain Keller - Damon Wadyko
Helen Keller - Samantha Fierke
Martha - Keyana McNeill
Percy - Kaleb Davis
Aunt Ev - Judy Bauman Blalock
James - Richard Bardon
Anagnos - Dan Duncan
Anne Sullivan - Amber Sebastian
Viney - Angela Davis
Keller Servants - Jamal Benoit and Janet McNeill
Laura - Isabel Moon
Alice - Erin McGee
Beatrice - Camilla Cox
Emma - Betseba Chapa
Sarah - Daniela Ramos
Clara - Halie Arreagea
Carrie - Cynthia Banza
Grace - Kendall Tubbs
Mary - Ketisa Banza
Elizabeth - Michele Keller
Florence - Noelle Wood
Reviewed Performance: 9/30/2011
Reviewed by Lyle Huchton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880- June 1, 1968) was an American author and lecturer. She was also the first deaf and blind person to be awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree. The moving story of how Helen was first taught to communicate through the determination of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, has become widely known through William Gibson's play The Miracle Worker. The Miracle Worker kicks off Grapevine's Runway Theatre's 29th season.
The Miracle Worker was first produced on Broadway in 1959 starring Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller. The two also would reprise their respective roles in the 1962 feature film. In a 1979 made-for-television movie, Patty Duke would take on the role of Anne Sullivan and Melissa Gilbert would play Helen.
Having seen several productions of The Miracle Worker in the past, I was not too surprised by Ellen Mizener's set. There was a series of platforms that were connected in the center by what was to be the front porch of the house as well as the hallway that led to the upstairs. On the right side of the playing area was the dining room, and on the left side, raised higher up, was the bedroom. Down almost center stage was a water well pump. On either side of stage left and right were two garden trellises.
What I liked about Ms. Mizener's set was the use of particular details. For instance, the platforms that were facing downstage were trimmed out to look like the outside siding of the house. The water well pump was treated to look like it belonged on the set. She used just enough furniture as to not crowd the playing area which permitted the action to flow smoothly.
To help anchor the play's time period was costume designer Matt McNeill. Mr. McNeill did a good job sticking to the proper 1880's silhouette. The men wore well-fitting suits complete with the correct neckties and vests. The women had on suitable skirts and blouses. He paid attention to accurate footwear, hats, and hairstyles (I loved how he outfitted Helen in a pinafore and long pantaloons). Mr. McNeill managed to carry out an overall impressive look even within the modest resources that community theaters often have for the production of costumes.
Director Kenny Green was another member of this production team that smartly used his resources. There were a lot of children in this play, 14 to be exact, which in itself not easy to cast under the best circumstances. Mr. Green managed to cast both a solid adult and children's acting core. In the scene where the girls were saying goodbye to Anne as she was about to leave the Institute for the Blind to go and teach Helen, every performer maintained their character from their entrance to their exit. It was nice to see such commitment and energy.
I did, however, have some issues with Mr. Green's directorial choices. In the scenes where Anne was having flash back memories of her little brother Jimmy he chose to use Jimmy as a voice over and to use a red spotlight on Anne. I would have like to have seen a more visual approach used here. Casting a boy to play Jimmy or the use of projections would have helped the emotional impact of these scenes. Gibson's play is written to be performed in three acts. By condensing it down to two acts would have helped with the overall pacing and tempo of the script.
Samantha Fierke took on the role of the young Helen Keller and produced a remarkable performance. Playing a character that had to be blind, deaf, and mute would prove a challenge even the most experienced actor. Ms. Fierke took this challenge to heart. She stayed true to her character, and made clear and notable choices. I appreciated that in her program bio she thanked her family for being able to fit her rehearsal times into their busy schedules. This support from her family clearly helped with the success of her performance.
Amber Sebastian selected a quiet but determined portrayal of Anne Sullivan. She did a remarkable job maintaining control when trying to convince the Kellers to allow her to treat Helen normally in a way so she could get through to her. In the extremely physical scenes with Helen I felt she lost direction and crossed the line of what was to be a choreographed and restrained fight.
Other noteworthy performances were Caitlin Mills as Kate Keller, Damon Wadyko as Captain Keller, Richard Bardon as James, and little Kaleb Davis as Percy.
Overall I felt the cast and crew of Runway Theatre's production of The Miracle Worker did an outstanding job on what is a well-known and highly produced script. Using Helen Keller's own words, they managed to create a piece that was "felt with the heart".
215 North Dooley Street Grapevine, Texas 76051
Runs through October 16th
Friday and Saturday @ 8:00pm, Saturday matinee @ 3:00 pm
For ticket prices or more information, please call 817-488-4842 or go to www.runwaytheatre.com.