Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Miracle Worker—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

         The Miracle of Communication

    This powerful drama, based on a true story, is written by William Gibson and directed by Doreen Lundberg.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (upstairs), just of Lombard (small church parking lot across the street), through December 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at

    Helen Keller (Olivia Holmstedt) , a deaf and blind child from birth, living in the Deep South during the late 1800’s, is truly one of those stories for the Ages.  Having her intelligence locked up for her early childhood years and then suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, was able to become aware of the outside world through the extreme patience of Annie Sullivan (Valeria Asbell), an Irish student with low vision herself, and was able to connect with her and open both their worlds to a whole new level.  Truly, a Miracle!

    Annie did not, at the outset, seem the sort to create miracles.  She and her brother had been sent to an Asylum as children 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 (Arun Kumar), and became a teacher at the school she attended.  But her first professional job was to be with the Keller family.

    Capt. Keller (Rick Barr), was an authoritarian head of a family, an ex-Civil War officer in the Confederate army, and Editor of the town’s newspaper, and was no one to cross.  His seemingly meek wife, Kate (Nina Monique Kelley), usually bowed to his wishes.  His sister, Ev (Lisa Pauley Grab), dutifully backed him at every turn.  His rebellious son, James (Blain Vincent III), feared him.  But he was at his wits end as to what to do with his young daughter, Helen, who was unable to speak or hear from birth, as diagnosed by their Doctor (Brent McMorris).

    Helen’s only contact with the outside world was playing with the servant’s, Viney’s (Tony Domingue) children, Percy (Emily Blacker) and Martha (Adale Beckwith-Foster).  But with Annie’s arrival, her world and the family’s would be turned upside down.  Annie 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.  But 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…and you will a witness to it.

    The script itself is a bit of an obstacle, as it is written more like a screenplay, with scenes jumping back and forth, between place and time, in quick successions.  This production does a good job of overcoming an engrossing but episodic script.  Also, the fan from the heating elements does create some distractions at times in hearing the play.  But it is still a powerful show and Lundberg has chosen well her cast and managed to keep the story straight for an audience, despite the difficulties in the script.

    The emotional and physical high points of any production of this show, are the exhausting performances of the two key roles, Annie and Helen.  In this case, they have been extremely blessed.  Except for grunts and screaming, Holmstedt only has one line at the end but the physicality of this young lady is marvelous.  She is a credit to the role.  And Asbell, as her teacher, is amazing.  She and her young student compliment each other at every twist and turn in their relationship.  One feels strongly for Annie as she, too, has been through hell and Asbell rides this emotional roller-coaster perfectly.  The almost silent, lengthy scene, as she tussles with her in using utensils and folding her napkin, is priceless, thanks to two fine actors (and the director)!

    A side note, Asbell also has her own company, Clever Enough, and is a fine director herself, having produced two of the most difficult plays of all time, Rhinoceros and Hamlet and both very well done!  Her company is worth checking out to see what’s next for them.

    I recommend this production, especially for the acting of the two key players.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.


  1. One of my best friends lost her sight as a young adult. This performance really resonated with her.

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