Theatre Mirror Reviews - "THE MIRACLE WORKER"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The opening show of MMAS' 16th season is William Gibson's "The Miracle Worker" which originally was a teleplay on Playhouse 90 in 1957. It became a Broadway smash hit in 1959 starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, winning them the Tony Awards. After its adaptation into a film in 1962, it garnered both actresses the Academy Award. "Language is to the mind more than light is to the eye," Annie Sullivan said. Gibson's provocative play is a tribute to teachers everywhere. Unsentimental yet compassionate, this story unveils the courage and tenacity of Annie Sullivan as she wrestles with the young deaf and blind Helen Keller, staunchly determined to teach her language, the key to knowledge. In return, Annie embarks on her own journey of self-discovery, love and understanding. It's a powerful message, meant to be shared with the entire family. This stirring dramatization of the story of Helen Keller is one of the most successful and warmly admired plays of the modern stage. Annie's success with Helen comes after two of most turbulent, violent and emotion-packed ever presented on stage. Director Meg Quin Dussault picks the best 10 performers to play these well known roles. Their reward is the standing ovation and freely flowing tears at the end of this riveting performance, making it into one of the must see shows of this autumn season.

Although this is a dramatic piece, Meg infuses it with humorous bits especially with Helen's brother, the maid and her two children as well as the bombastic blustering of Captain Keller who finds out that he is not always right and has to change his unbending ways. Meg always does a marvelous job as director whether it be drama, comedy or a musical. The water pump is the most important set piece in this show because the breakthrough comes as Annie forces Helen to fill the water pitcher. Annie baptizes her with the water, in a way, healing her by introducing her into the land of the living via communication skills. It took Annie two weeks to work her miracle in the garden house on the Keller estate and her insistent spelling of words into Helen's hand, force the young girl to finally understand what she is doing. This show is the perfect mixture of comic and dramatic moments with the heaviest burden falling on the two actresses playing the teacher and pupil but Meg gives each of her performers their moment to shine in this well written and well crafted script.

Leading this cast are two fabulous actresses who command the stage with their talent. Chelsea Cavagnaro plays Annie with a lilting Irish brogue. Annie grew up with her brother at the Perkin's School for the Blind in Watertown, MA. Chelsea displays Annie's indignation at Helen's bad behavior at the breakfast table, demanding that everyone leave the room immediately. After her long battle with Helen, she emerges triumphant by proclaiming the girl folded her napkin. She utters the room is a wreck but at least she folded her napkin. Annie proclaims discipline is the most important thing to teach Helen and the Captain says the same thing about Annie. One of the comic bits throughout the show is that Annie is a bad speller and has to look up the words in a dictionary while complaining you have to know how to spell them to find them.Chelsea's dramatic prowess shines through whether she is reprimanding Helen and Captain Keller, commiserating with Mrs. Keller or having a conversation with the neglected half-sister, Jamie. She has a lot of chemistry with 13 year old Catherine Oliviere who plays Helen. She keeps her eyes out of focus, portraying a blind girl splendidly. Catherine displays Helen's emotions by grunting and the antics she does at certain moments. For example, happiness when she discovers its her mother, indifference to her father and anger toward Annie as she keeps trying to teach her how to behave. Catherine wins the audience over as well as her teacher who exclaims at the close of the show that she will love Helen forever. She has the acting chops of a much more mature actress. This kid is going places for sure in show business.

Although some audience members might think this is a two person show, the other roles are as important to the telling of this story about how one should learn lessons daily to realize what life is all about. Bruce Church is a commanding figure as the Captain who had better control of his men in the army than he does his family. He appears cold and uncaring at first but eventually thaws out to enjoy Helen's transformation. Atia DeRosa is dynamic as Mrs. Keller, the overprotective mother. Her dramatic prowess in this role is superb. Atia delivers the goods in this angst ridden role who only wants what is best for her child. Playing Kate's stepdaughter is Samantha Eaton-Roberts who must deal with her father's constant anger at her. However at the end of the play, she becomes the mouse that roars when she finally confronts her father about admitting he is finally wrong about something. Samantha's comic and caustic comments during the show are comic gems. She also has a poignant apology scene with Kate where they reach an understanding about Helen. Another family member is Aunt Ev portrayed by Cindy McCarron who dotes on and gives into Helen's bad behavior at the table. Sara Norton plays Viney, the maid wonderfully and her two children are well played by Nicola Lynch Collier as Martha and Katherine Ault as Percy. Rounding out the cast is Wayne Nettnay as Doctor and Mr. Anagos and Jullie Bellini as Sophia Hopkins, a deaf character in the show who signs the main ideas of the scenes. So for an outstanding performance of this well known show, be sure to catch "The Miracle Worker" at MMAS before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you.

THE MIRACLE WORKER (9 to 25 September)
MMAS, 377 North Main Street, Mansfield, MA
1(508)339-2822 or

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide