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William Gibson’s play, “The Miracle Worker,” which chronicles the early life of Helen Keller and her teacher and mentor, Annie Sullivan, has captivated and inspired audiences for more than 50 years. The play tossed Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke two tickets to stardom, made Arthur Penn the director du jour and gave them all a film contract and two of them an Oscar.
The classic tale of overcoming the insurmountable by using the power of determination and discipline is offered up by Latham’s Curtain Call Theatre through March 27.
A 50-year-old play might stand for a good nip and tuck here and there just to keep it fresh and alive, but this production takes a deeper cut, almost a Reader’s Digest edit, leaving us searching for the unabridged edition.
But where the story excels and interests us is in the conflict between the two strong-willed women, teacher Annie Sullivan and student Helen Keller, and the focus of this production is firmly there. The struggle by Annie to use Helen’s own determination and strong sense of self to unlock her own door is fascinating and compelling and gives the audience something to inspire.
Cathryn Salamone finds all the right notes to Annie’s song right from the very start of the evening. Up for a challenge as soon as she de-boards the train, Salamone makes Sullivan a force to be reckoned with while allowing the audience to see the frailty behind Annie’s dark glasses and maintaining the composure of a woman trying to achieve the impossible. This is a tough effort for any actress, but Salamone displays these truths with ease. It is a stunning and well rounded portrayal.
Creating a formidable foe is the job of McKinley Fallon as Helen, and the actress succeeds. Able to capture the frustration and wonder of a girl who yearns to break out, Fallon manages exceedingly well with the physicality and fragility of Helen’s situation.
Heading up the Keller clan as Captain dad and maternal Kate, Patrick White and Pamela O’Connor fill out the story with a with the complete range of emotions that plague the parents of a needful child.
Most of us know the outcome and those who do not will not be surprised the way the journey ends. The iconic scene at the water pump where the “miracle” happens does still flood with emotion. Salamone is darn brilliant in this scene, as is Fallon.
Steven Fletcher’s direction seems tentative, which is an odd choice in a story that takes place on a battlefield. The moments of quiet between the skirmishes are rightfully small, but the confrontation scenes between Annie and Helen need more of the dirt and violence of two women locked in a battle of wills.
But this show is Salamone’s and the chief glories remain hers, from start to finish.