Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 8, 2008

The Miracle Worker

Majestic, West Springfield
through 10/12/08
By Shera Cohen

The staging is the first clue that the Majestic’s opening play, “The Miracle Worker,” launches a wonderful professional 2008/09 season. Set designer Greg Trochlil and lighting designer Daniel Rist arrange multiple areas, representing indoors and outdoors, clearly defined by outlines of wooden panels and variations of spotlights.

The high caliber of the play continues from the very first words spoken to final words of Helen Keller fingered in the hand of her teacher Annie Sullivan. Playwright William Gibson’s dialogue is exquisite as he initially hints at the potential of each character, and then proves it. Just as Gibson depends on choosing the right words, the plot is about words and language. Communication is the crux of the play – without it, the human spirit is locked. Helen and Annie’s story is real, and playgoers know its beginning, middle, and end. Yet, seeing it often never seems to be too often.

Zoya Kachadurian skillfully directs her cast of 14 (including some adorable children) in a well-paced natural clip. The flow is seamless, especially when moving in and out of flashbacks. There are no weak actors. Marianna Bassham (Helen’s mother) portrays a gentile Southern lady with a backbone when it comes to her child. Eric Love (father) could have easily phoned in his performance as one-dimensional, but this was far from the case. Dan Whelton (brother) shows the clear growth of his character’s inner self.

Wherever did the Majestic staff find Brittany Andrea? Actually, the answer isn’t important. What is pertinent is that she is a must-see young actress who is only in town for one month in the physically and emotionally demanding role of Helen. She balances relentless frustration with naïve awakening. Andrea is Helen.

The play is truly the story of Annie Sullivan, who was the miracle worker. Jen Schwaber gives Annie a dichotomy of forthrightness and doubt, strength and vulnerability, courage and bravado, humor and drama. Her battles with Andrea call for shear stamina, and perhaps accepting some bruises throughout the play’s run. Schwaber is an actress who easily meets the many challenges of Annie.

While at the Majestic, note the beautiful paintings by Willie Ross School for the Deaf students which are on display throughout the run of this play.