THEATER | Torch burns bright with “The Miracle Worker”

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After two earlier productions (in 2005 and 2006), Torch Theater this year brings The Miracle Worker across the river to St. Paul’s History Theatre for a third, larger staging. Playwright William Gibson’s script tells the familiar story of the young Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, the teacher who taught her language. As a child I remember reading a simplified version of Helen and Annie’s story and every time I reached the end, I wanted to dive right back in again. I experienced a similar feeling last Thursday, as the frigid night was warmed by this story of two extraordinary women.

the miracle worker, a play written by william gibson and directed by craig johnson. presented through february 21 at the history theatre, 30 e. 10th st., st. paul. for tickets ($30) and information, see historytheatre.com.

Having not read the story in many years, I was delighted at how quickly the characters came back to life for me on the stage. Michael Hoover’s simple set allows the small cast of this production to focus on the strong dynamics within the Keller family and the daunting emotions involved in the ultimate struggle to communicate.

Torch Theatre founder and artistic director Stacia Rice returns to the production as Annie Sullivan, the stubborn and determined young woman who will not cave to Helen’s tempers. It is clear that Rice is familiar with and comfortable in the role, which allows her to react to the physicality of Helen’s unprovoked bursts in a natural, un-staged manner. Ten-year-old Scarlett Thompson, who plays Helen, is despite her age an experienced actress—she’s appeared at the Guthrie and at SteppingStone Theatre—capable of holding her own against Rice. She easily conveys Helen’s fiery unruliness, which is exacerbated by her parents’ lack of discipline.

The play’s most memorable scene comes when Annie locks Helen and herself in the Kellers’ dining room, determined to break Helen’s bad habits and get her to eat from her own plate. The two spar around the table for a position of power, and as Helen refuses spoon after spoon placed in her hand, the audience is reminded of the sheer magnitude of Sullivan’s challenge. When the breakthrough finally does come in the play’s closing moments, we understand the battle and strength it took to get there.

This story may be well known, but this production brings it vividly to life. I strongly encourage others to reconnect with Helen and Annie and go see this wonderful production.

Rebecca Mitchell (mitcreb@yahoo.com) is a graduate of the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. She lives in Uptown Minneapolis and is currently working in public relations.

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