by Lesley Grigg
Isabel Kinney as Helen and Jennifer Nasta Zefutie as Annie in THE MIRACLE WORKER at Kelsey Theatre. (Photo credit: Rob Gougher)

Isabel Kinney as Helen and Jennifer Nasta Zefutie as Annie in THE MIRACLE WORKER at Kelsey Theatre. (Photo credit: Rob Gougher)

In the note from the director, Judi Parrish writes that she was looking for actors willing to be “fearless” in their roles, since “this play is about facing your fears and reaching beyond yourself.” From the bold performances on opening night of THE MIRACLE WORKER it was evident that these actors were not afraid to go all out.

This story of courage and determination starts with new mother, Kate Keller (Morgan Petronis) standing over her daughter’s bassinet. Something isn’t right, but her husband, Captain Keller (Moot Davis), and the Doctor don’t seem worried. That is until Kate notices her daughter, Helen, is not responding to visual or audio cues. The time of facing their fears have begun.

Throughout the play, Kate tries to see the good in what is happening to her family; however, she’s reluctant to reach beyond what she knows will keep her family happy, even if it means living with a “wild child.” She wants to help her daughter while satisfying her husband and trying to keep a thread of sanity for herself. Petronis plays the role with the calmness of a saint. She softly treads across the stage and rarely raises her voice, a pillar of motherly support.

Captain plays the opposite spectrum, showing his stubborn and hot-tempered side. At first, he refuses to face his fears and admit he may be wrong about how to raise his daughter with special needs, but Davis does allow some compassionate moments to seep from his character in a few vulnerable scenes.

As a young girl who can’t see, hear, or speak, Helen Keller (Isabel Kinney) is smarter than she seems. From her interactions with others, including wrapping her parents around her little fingers and sensing and reacting to a life-change that occurs, you can see the typical child within the exceptional one. From her first interactions on stage, you can tell Kinney is one of the fearless actors on stage. She doesn’t hold back in discovering all she can by feeling her way across the stage and around her cast mates. You almost forget she has no dialogue, except for a few sounds, because she tells her story completely through well timed actions and emotions.

Annie Sullivan (Jennifer Nasta Zefutie), Helen’s tireless teacher, not only faces her fears, she pushes passed them as she takes on her first student. Through this process, Annie reaches as far as she can go outside of herself to teach Helen that words have meaning and everything has a word. Annie’s tumultuous past comes through voice over flashbacks of her brother and childhood. These experiences molded her into a strong-willed teacher that won’t allow herself any credit until her ultimate goal is realized: Helen’s understanding of language. Zefutie makes playing a fearless character seem effortless. Her transitions between high and low moments are seamless, even in the most tasking scene. Faced with wild tantrums, that even tired some audience members, both Zefutie and Kinney gave their all. Zefutie played patience to a t while Kinney expertly flailed and fussed. The scene was summed up in Annie’s telling quote, “the room is a wreck, but her napkin is folded.” The strategies Annie used to teach language and behavior may have been misunderstood by some characters in the play, but they were inspiring to those who ever tried to teach a young mind something new.

Other notable performances include James Keller (Graham Mazie), Helen’s pompous half-brother, and Aunt Ev (Laurie Hardy), who showed a Southern Aunty always (thinks) she knows best. Viney (Tia Brown), Percy (Justin Saintil), and Martha (Isis Kayla Henderson) brought a sense of sass to the cast and helped make important scene changes flow. The Doctor/Mister Anagnos (Scott Karlin), young girls at the Perkins School for the Blind (Amanda Grace Bank, Taylor Buffs, Marissa Marciano, Julia Patella, Julia Kim Weingaertner, Simon Hamilton), and voice over characters (M. Kitty Getlik, Laurie Hardy, Rosie Karlin, Scott Karlin) added more personal touches to the story as well.

The standing ovation during curtain call solidified the fact that this uplifting story and outstanding performances reached beyond the stage and touched the audience.

by William Gibson
Directed by Judith Parrish
February 1-10, 2013
The Pennington Players
at the Kelsey Theatre
at Mercer Mercer County Community College
1200 Old Trenton Rd.
West Windsor, NJ 08550

You may also like