Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Miracle Worker—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

In God’s Good Time

This classic drama is written by William Gibson and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through January 10th, 2016 (but get tickets soon, as it has already been extended, and is selling fast).  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org

In every country, there are seasons…and within each of them, times when to sow, grow and reap.  And when the time is ripe, God’s Time, things blossom.  Within Helen Keller, the seed of an important being had been planted and was just biding its time until the right gardener appeared, Annie Sullivan.  And, thus, it came to pass, a Miracle was created.  (My humble reflection on this play, for this Season of Joy and Miracles.)

Some fun observations:  Both actors who appeared in the Broadway production of this story, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, both won Tony’s for it.  They then made the movie with them and they both won Oscars.  Melissa Gilbert played Helen, then a few years later, played Annie.  There is a sequel to it called Monday After the Miracle.  Bancroft appeared in another Gibson play about a strong woman, Anne Hathaway, about the early years of Shakespeare called, A Cry of Players.  And, it so happens, back in the 90’s, I played Capt. Keller in a production by the NW Children’s Theatre.

Annie Sullivan (Val Landrum) did not at the outset seem the sort to create miracles.  She and her brother, Jimmy (Harper Lea), had been sent to an Asylum because they were both infirmed.  She had numerous operations on her eyes and still had somewhat restricted vision.  But she pulled herself up by her bootstraps and chose to learn sign language, with the help of Dr. Anagnos (Michael Mendelson), and became a teacher at the school she attended.  But her first professional job was to be with the Keller family.

Capt. Keller (Don Alder), an authoritarian head of a family in the South, an ex-Civil War officer and Editor of the town’s newspaper, was no one to cross.  His seemingly meek wife, Kate (Amy Newman), usually bowed to his wishes.  His sister, Ev (Susannah Mars), dutifully backed him at every turn.  His rebellious  son, James (Joshua J. Weinstein), feared him.  But he was at his wits end as to what to do with his young daughter, Helen (Agatha Olson), who was unable to speak or hear from birth.

Helen’s only contact with the outside world was playing with the servant’s, Viney’s (Josie Seid) children, Percy (Saorsa Seid) and Martha (Josephine McGehee).  But with Annie’s arrival, her world and the family’s would be turned upside down.  Annie’s insisted on complete control of the child.  She would not be content to simply have Helen imitate her, like a trained pet, but actually understand the meaning of objects in the world and how they all related to each other.

And she wanted to have Helen communicate back to her, as to her thoughts and feelings.  The journey would be hard, both physically and emotionally for everyone, but the rewards, if successful, would be immeasurable.  This trek must be experienced by the audience, and so, this is where my description ends.  Try to imagine, if you will, though, entering a world of noiseless darkness and encountering all sorts of objects, completely unaware of their meanings and, not only that, having your mind, thoughts, and feelings trapped inside you with no way of expressing yourself.  That is the challenge Annie and Helen must overcome.

Rodriguez has done an amazing job of staging this…Miracle.  He nurtures it slowly, has beautifully massaged the wordless confrontation scene between Helen and Annie, and then lets the climax burst forth, revealing its fruit.  And his actors complement his vision, especially Alder, Newman and Weinstein, in very capable support.

Landrum, a veteran performer, is spot on as the savior, Annie Sullivan.  You can see the many layers, sometimes contradictory, that she traverses, giving us a full-rounded portrayal.  The loneliness she must have felt herself is palpable but her courage to rise above it all to save Helen is admirable.  And Olson is a treasure.  This has got to be one of the hardest roles for child actors in all the canons of plays.  And she ranks up there with the best of them.  She never broke character and was totally convincing as an individual, completely unaware of her surroundings.  She has a career on these well-worn boards if she chooses it.  Bravo to both!

I highly recommend this show.  It was a full house when I saw it and got an immediate and well-deserved standing ovation at the end.  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.