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"The Miracle Worker"
Elizabeth Franz, Tobias Segal, Yvette Ganier, Matthew Modine, Jennifer Morrison, Abigal Breslin, Alison Pill. Photo by Joan Marcus.
"The Miracle Worker."
Written by William Gibson; Directed by Kate Whoriskey.
Circle in the Square 235 West 50th Street.
Opened March 3, 2010.
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar February 26, 2010.
Helen (Abigail Breslin) is 10, a wild child, throwing tantrums, screaming. Annie (Alison Pill) is 20, saucy and opinionated. She says, "The only time I have trouble is when I'm right" which is "so often."
Both of them are whip-smart as well as strong-minded, and William Gibson's 1985 play tells the fascinating story of how teacher Annie Sullivan got Helen Keller, deaf and blind since infancy, to understand, to touch-sign, and to express herself so brilliantly that she became a world-famous traveler and lecturer.
The fact that all this occurs in a small town in 1880s Alabama makes it the more astonishing.
The play and the story starts out with Annie taming an animal. Helen is wild, she spits. Annie is tough - made tougher in battles of wills by growing up in an orphan asylum -- and throws water on her. She forces her to eat with utensils, to use a napkin - and to fold it. She teaches Helen the names of things and feelings by spelling them out on her hands.
She has to confront Helen's blowhard father, Captain Keller (Matthew Modine), a newspaper publisher, who is rather sexist. He announces that he's not used to rudeness in servants or women
Kate Whoriskey's theater-in-the-round production is generally fine from the acting point of view. Breslin and Pill are mesmerizing, though Matthew Modine as Helen's father is sometimes flat and one dimensional.
The Captain's insensitivity is underlined by his lack of affection towards the jealous Jimmie (well-played by Lance Chantiles-Wertz), his son by his late wife. Jennifer Morrison does fine as Kate Keller, Helen's mother, expressing the understanding her husband lacks.
But the in-the-round staging doesn't always work; it is visually choppy. You sometimes don't know where to look.