Monday, January 28, 2013

The Miracle Worker, TrueNorth Cultural Arts

(Heather Brown as Kate Keller and Morgan Faith Williams as Helen Keller)

Some scripts are so treasured, honored and oft-seen it’s almost impossible to breathe new life into them. That is certainly the case with The Miracle Worker by William Gibson, since every school and community theater in the country has probably done it, many multiple times.

But the good news is that this staging produced by TrueNorth Cultural Arts is a fresh and involving presentation. Thanks to the granular direction of Fred Sternfeld and well-calibrated performances by a strong cast, this production provides an emotional roller-coaster ride that never seems forced or maudlin.

Of course, the story is nothing new since most of us, many children included, have internalized the traumatic journey of Helen Keller from a basically hellacious and non-functional child into the icon we cherish today.

It is only when Annie Sullivan enters the Keller home do things begin to change for the better. Annie, formerly blind herself until a successful surgery, is a no-nonsense teacher. Wrestling with her charge, literally and figuratively, Annie eventually manages to break through the walls of blindness, deafness and the inability to speak that always seemed impenetrable.

Those two roles are obviously critical to the success of any staging of Miracle, and TrueNorth could have hardly done better than Morgan Faith Williams as Helen and Lara Knox as Annie.

The slight and young Williams sinks deeply into the role of Helen, fighting like a spitfire to maintain her character’s control over her severely reduced universe. And Knox’s Annie battles her tooth and nail as shoves, slaps and kicks are exchanged in their scenes together.

They are supported most ably by fine characterizations in smaller roles. Helen’s parents show all their love and confusion as portrayed by Heather Brown and Robert Hawkes. And Jeremy Jenkins executes a clever turn as James, Helen’s half-brother and an occasional voice of reason in the fractured household.

Director Fred Sternfeld shapes many small moments that eventually collect into an avalanche of emotion at the end. As a result, the tears you feel on your cheeks at the end of the play are well-earned.

The Miracle Worker
Through February 3 at the TrueNorth Cultural Arts Center, 4530 Colorado Avenue, Sheffield Village, 440-949-5200, ext. 221

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