Classic Theatre Comes To Life at Forge Theatre

by Walter Bender

One of the classic pieces of theatre is THE MIRACLE WORKER, the dramatization of events derived from Helen Keller’s autobiography. It tells the story of Keller, beginning with the illness that rendered her deaf and blind, through her early childhood. Annie Sullivan is hired by the Kellers to serve as governess and teacher for Helen. Helen, due to her parents’ spoiling her, is almost feral…wild, angry, no discipline…and Sullivan’s struggles to get through to Helen are the meat of the tale. Forge Theatre is the latest to bring this classic to their stage, and there is much to like with this production.

The main characters, Helen (Cheyenne Hails) and Annie (Kim Stratoti) are the focus of the production, and do not disappoint. Hails (a relative newcomer) as the blind/deaf/mute Helen has a difficult task and does it masterfully, her eyes never focusing on anything, her concentration never wavering. It was very easy to “believe” that she could not see or hear. Stratoti showed a easy-going side to Annie through most of the production, but showed the strength of character to confront Helen and the Keller family when needed. Sue Murphy (Kate Keller) was a loving and protective mother, and Bob Goretski (Captain Keller) showed his light touch to an often heavy-handed character. Matthew Barnette (James Keller) was appropriately confrontational with the Captain. Beth Eustis (Aunt Ev) and Eric Rupp (Anagnos) made the most of their secondary characters, bringing humanity and compassion to their performances.

The set was very well laid out and eye-catching, albeit a bit cramped at times during the dining sequences. The water pump (the much-needed set piece) was placed in a spot where it was always visible yet not in the way of the action. The area that was the cottage where Annie and Helen spend the two-week period “alone” took perhaps a bit too much of the total working area. Costumes were beautiful, functional, and suggested the period very well. Lighting was functional, albeit with a couple dark spots and some unfortunate errors with the area lighting at the performance I attended.

There were some other glitches to this performance. I’m not entirely sure if it was opening-night issues or not, but the sound effects, especially during scene changes, didn’t seem to be consistent with the tone of the preceding (or proceeding) scenes. Some scene changes were unaccompanied, some had music, some had a rather indistinguishable sound effect, which was a bit confusing. I would have liked to see the stage crew in period costuming…having the cast perform some scene changes with the stage crew detracted from the tone as well. (And, a note for the director…Helen should NEVER participate in scene changes!) And, the last scene felt almost thrown in…after the penultimate scene, it’s difficult to make that last little bit feel important, but it says so much about the evolution of both Helen and Annie, it should feel like this was the ending.

Overall, there was an enjoyable evening. Even with the bumps in the road, the penultimate scene brought a tear to my eye, and the audience was enthralled by the performances of the talented cast.

Play by William Gibson, adapted from the 1957 Playhouse 90 teleplay of the same name
Directed by Clem Mirto
February 28 – March 16, 2014
Forge Theatre
241 First Avenue
Phoenixville, PA 19460
(610) 935-1920

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