theater review

‘Miracle Worker’: resurrection time

Artists Rep's revival of William Gibson's American classic is a small miracle in its own right


The Miracle Worker was first performed more than half a century ago, and while critics were sharp to illustrate its production flaws, it won the hearts of audiences. Even now, most Americans are familiar with the deaf and mute firecracker Helen Keller, who rewrote the map on how disability is perceived: when we think of the play, we think of her. And as we huddle in and batten down the hatches to celebrate the warmth of family and friends during the holidays, Artists Repertory Theater is producing a real-life miracle.

The famous premiere production of the play and the movie based on it were hailed for the strong acting by Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, Helen’s teacher and companion, and Patty Duke as Helen. Hollywood streamlined the movie, and playwright William Gibson was disappointed that the tense subplots of the stage version were left out. Artists Repertory’s The Miracle Worker stays true to Gibson’s original script, and Dámaso Rodriguez’s direction brings out the many skills of a diverse and accomplished cast.

Trouble at the table: a wild child strikes. Photo: Owen Carey

Trouble at the table: a wild child strikes. Photo: Owen Carey

That brightness extends to the whole production. On opening night the audience was a buzz in the foyer, and the excitement was contagious. We descended in a single line into the box of the theater, leaving the real world and suspending our belief. Artists Rep’s stage – scenic design is by Tim Stapleton, props by Will Bailey, lighting by Kristeen Willis Crosser, costumes by Bobby Brewer-Wallin – is its own world for this show: delicately lit on three levels of squares balanced by a contrast of golden yellow and royal blue. A thick Southern air and the sound of flycatchers fill the room. To the back of the stage hangs a simple floral curtar in, not overdone, but elegantly implied. On center is a wicker baby’s cradle, and to the left, a country doctor’s old leather clutch. Off to the right, not easily noticed, an old hand water well stands; hanging from its spout is a nickel bucket, with a soft and metallic smell. The stage feels like Alabama, where the action takes place, but it’s not a recreation of an actual home.


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