Director Jess Bye Stinson has taken the classic story of ‘unreachable’ Helen Keller and her determined teacher Annie Sullivan and given us a gem of a production which opened last night.
When a play relies heavily on a child’s performance, the results can be unpredictable. Young Kayla Treplica is the perfect casting choice – she is sweet, bratty, smart, and best of all, believable as blind and deaf Helen Keller. The play, and the Keller household, all centers around Helen. Her parents (Elizabeth Balabayev and Jim Fryer) love her, indulge her, and have no idea what to do with her. Fryer’s Captain Keller is stern on the surface, but he cannot hide his devotion to his wife, his concern for his family, and his frustration with his own inability to relate to his son. He is subtly coached and supported by his wife. Both actors deliver strong performances detailing their own characters, and setting up the framework that has defined Helen’s life. Rounding out the family is son Jimmy, played by Stephen Travers. Many of the funny lines are his, and Travers does a great job of delivering a laugh, at the same time showing us a Jimmy that yearns for peace and acceptance.
When Annie Sullivan (Emily West) arrives, she is quick to assess the family dynamic, and brings the audience right along with her as she says things that need to be said and takes disruptive, necessary action. West’s portrayal of Annie is heartfelt and touching. Watching her, we can see the difficult path that has brought her to the Keller’s doorstep and the depth of her commitment to break through the barriers that separate Helen from her potential. She is completely convincing, from her strength to her sassiness to her eye strain. You will feel compelled to root for her, and the Kellers.
The cast also includes John Hill, doubling as the doctor for baby Helen and the mentor who encourages Annie to try to help Helen. His wise and compassionate Dr. Anagnos helps us understand the gift of teaching that he has inspired in Annie. Domestic servants Viney (Nance Waye Reeves) and Martha (Angela Robb) keep the unusual Keller household running. Viney is unflappable and poor Martha is constantly being interrupted. The two actresses are the embodiments of constancy and flexibility. Aunt Ev (Cheryl Stark) contrasts nicely as the person closest to the Kellers who is still an outsider. Like us, she really doesn’t understand how the Keller family can function around a family member who can’t communicate.
Will Annie Sullivan be able to reach Helen? Will the Kellers be able to deliver the tough love that Annie needs? You will have to come see the show to find out!
When you do, you will also see a deceptively simple set. The action takes place in several locations, and clever staging and lighting allow for quick and easy to follow transitions.
There are many engaging Christmas shows playing right now – NUNCRACKERS at Footlighters, A WONDERFUL LIKE, THE MUSICAL at Steel River, and the original THE CHRISTMAS ENCOUNTER at Barnstormers, to name a few. By all means, go see them, but don’t miss THE MIRACLE WORKER at Spotlight. The very human story of family, turmoil, struggle and triumph is beautifully delivered, and the perfect lift for your holiday season.
THE MIRACLE WORKER
by William Gibson
December 2 – 17, 2016
129 Park Ave.
Swarthmore, PA 19081
Review submitted by:
Anne has been involved in community theater around the region but is new to reviewing.
Photo: The cast of THE MIRACLE WORKER: Cheryl Stark, Stephen Travers, Elizabeth Balabayev, Jim Fryer, John Hill, Emily West, Kayla Teplica, Angela Robb, and Nance Reeves