“As usual, the true strength is the acting. There is an excellent supporting cast, including Keller’s half-brother James (Sean Hudock). There are some major subplots here, particularly the struggles of James, Captain Keller’s grown son by a previous marriage, to forge a relationship with his father” – Montgomery Advertiser
Directed by James Bowen, Sean plays James Keller in William Gibson’s ‘The Miracle Worker,’ running at Alabama Shakespeare Festival through March 18. The production returns April 27 – May 6, 2018, running in rep with Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night.’ Click here for tickets.
A superb Alabama Shakespeare Festival cast ensures that William Gibson’s classic play about Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, not only retains its considerable emotional impact but a surprising amount of humor.
All this is to say, there will be some who will go to “The Miracle Worker,” or perhaps won’t go to it, because they believe it will be a tired retelling of a familiar tale rather than a still powerful and entertaining play. The ASF production of “The Miracle Worker” proves them wrong.
It’s a wonderful production that as the old cliché goes “will make you laugh and make you cry.”
There are the usual incredibly high ASF production values. James Bowen, one of ASF’s best actors, once again excels as a director, providing nice pacing and pulling fine performances from his actors. Pamela Scofield’s costumes are gorgeous and James Wolk’s set — a wooden, skeletal outline of a house furnished with wooden chairs and tables — is a study in utility that projects the needed atmosphere while never getting in the way of the action.
But as usual, the true strength is the acting. There is an excellent supporting cast, including Keller’s parents, the loving but weary mother Kate (Jenny Strassburg), her former Confederate officer father Captain Keller (Timothy Carter) her half-brother James (Sean Hudock) and her Aunt Ev (Toni DiBuono). There are some major subplots here, particularly the struggles of James, Captain Keller’s grown son by a previous marriage, to forge a relationship with his father.
The result is a play that is so powerful and entertaining that by its conclusion, there will be more water flowing down faces than from the scene’s famous water pump.
It would be a disservice to William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker to focus exclusively on the relationship between young Irish immigrant Annie Sullivan [Marina Shay] and Helen Keller [Brooklyn Norstedt], and the effort that went into an eventual breakthrough moment for the blind-deaf-mute Helen. It is that, of course, but a lot more besides. Set in post-Civil War Tuscumbia, Alabama, Gibson’s episodic storytelling has a lot to say about family, patriarchy, behavioral psychology, gender roles, race, social class, bullying, 19th Century medical practices, and disabilities that resonate across time and have audiences reflecting on their own experiences.
At the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, director James Bowen gives attention to each of these by placing the action on James Wolk’s skeletal minimalist set; and his acting ensemble, dressed in Pamela Scofield’s detailed period costumes, enhance the timeliness of these subjects through naturalistic rendering of relationships and dialogue.
The only family member who seems to approve of Annie’s methods is Keller’s son James [Sean Hudock], a youth who is trying desperately to speak up for himself and earn his father’s respect.
Yet, there are a number of other instances that show the frustrations of the family and their relationships with one another as they deal with the impact of Helen’s progress on them: James finding an unexpected ally and friend in Mrs. Keller; the powerful bonding between father and son. The actors give credible interpretations that target the most human responses to the challenges they face.
In the current season’s plays, ASF is featuring “some of our native heroes whose triumphs and trials are woven into the fabric of Alabama’s history”: the Tuskegee Airmen, “Bear” Bryant, and Helen Keller. This iteration of The Miracle Worker is a fitting tribute.