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Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Castaways Repertory Theatre The Miracle Worker

By • Oct 13th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson
Castaways Repertory Theatre
A.J. Ferlazzo Building, Woodbridge, VA
Through October 23rd
2:30 with one intermission
$10-$14
Reviewed October 9th, 2010

The Miracle Worker is the classic tale of Annie Sullivan, a teacher fresh out of school and her struggle to learn how to teach a deaf-blind girl, Helen Keller, how to communicate. Annie also struggles with losses in her own life, most notably the promise she made to her brother Jimmie before his death. Eventually Annie is able to connect with Helen and teaches her language, “first, last, and in-between, language.”

Annie was portrayed by Alexia Poe as a strong, no-nonsense girl. Yet she allowed Annie’s nervousness to show through, especially in the scene where she met Helen’s mother Kate (Colleen Close) for the first time. Close handled a mother’s fear and concern for her daughter with composure. At times Poe’s posture seemed to be rather stiff, with very little movement from her upper body. I couldn’t tell if that was a costume problem or a conscious acting decision to show that Annie was trying to be more mature than she really was.

Helen was played by Rebecca Hausman. Hausman was much older than Helen, which gave an additional layer of complexity to the role. Helen was scripted to be a young child, so Hausman had to unlearn a lot of the skills and abilities that she relies on as an actress. Since a huge part of acting is using your voice to convey emotion, and to react to what is happening with the other actors on stage, Hausman had to be able to ignore what was happening around her. For the most part she was successful in ignoring her surroundings, although at times she walked too directly and easily towards her mother. She did a magnificent job reacting to Belle, her dog, when Captain Keller brought Belle for a visit. Also well done was Helen reacting to Annie through the sense of touch. Hausman took Poe’s face into her hands and tried to mimic Poe’s expressions. The scene brought a huge burst of laughter from the audience.

Captain Keller (Scott Olson), Helen’s father, was a formidable opponent, such as when he argued with his son James (Stephen Keane) about why the South lost the Civil War. But when it came to standing up to the women in his life, his wife, daughter, sister or maid, he quickly gave in. Olson didn’t present the Captain with a lot of bluster, but rather a more resigned air. It would have been nice to see more of a change in the Captain from the beginning of the play when he has given up most hope for Helen to be “normal” to the end when the miracle occurs.

One of the themes of the show is Annie dealing with her memories of her younger brother Jimmie. I liked seeing Jimmie (Collin Chandler) and “Young” Annie (Heather Bisulca) during the flashbacks. Bisulca’s actions were mirrored by Poe as the elder Annie relived each episode, which was surprisingly effective.

Several of the actors had trouble with their lines at the performance I attended. Perhaps they were tired after their tech week rehearsals and their opening night performance, but regardless, getting lost in lines, repeating lines in a loop, or using the wrong words is distracting.

One of the most memorable scenes of The Miracle Worker is the food fight. Annie tries to teach Helen to only eat from her own plate. In the script, the scene’s action is written out in nearly five pages of blocking instructions and allows for a lot of interpretation by the director and actors. I liked how the stage was used, especially the creation of a hallway to the kitchen by using the wing space and Hausman was able to beat on the locked door. There was a point near the end of the food fight when Poe’s arm blocked both her and Hasuman’s face so the audience could not see what was happening.

Director Katherine Bisulca and Gavin Tameris designed the set, primarily made up of two rooms of the Keller household, the upstairs bedroom and the dining room. The upstage walls of each room was represented by 2×4 studs, with windows and doorways fit into the “walls.” The two rooms were set square with each other, which forced the dining table to also be set parallel to the audience. That resulted in two actors when seated at the table to have their backs to the audience. Usually it was Helen and Annie who had their backs to us, which made it very difficult to see what was happening.

It also seemed that when actors were miming opening windows that the height and position of the window changed with each actor. The decision to not use a real wall is a strong one, but it would help credibility for some consistency to occur.

Another issue with the set design is the long sequence of scenes in the last half of the play that takes place at the garden house. There wasn’t a real set for the garden house, although the placement of boxes and props allowed for us to imagine the walls. But why was the garden house directly in front of the dining room area? No major scenes took place in the upstairs bedroom, so it would have made it easier on the audience had the garden house been located on stage right so that we could see the Keller family in the dining room when they were discussing the quiet life without Helen.

Some of the lights were rather harsh, but lighting designer Dale Carlsen was really limited by the venue in how much he could do with the lights. The harsh lights actually enhanced some of the scenes, such as the scene of Annie leaving her school with the schoolchildren gathered around her.

Scene changes happened very quickly, with actors entering their scene while actors were still on stage in the previous change. Light shifts helped identify what we should be focusing on.

All in all, The Miracle Worker was enjoyable, but still needed some work.

Just so everyone reading this is clear of any potential biases of my thoughts about Castaways’ The Miracle Worker: Last Spring I was asked to stage manage this production. My wife is the assistant stage manager, so I have heard a bit about the production during the rehearsal process. I was a member of Castaways last season, and am very familiar with the limitations of the facility they use. I did stage manage a production of The Miracle Worker last season at a different theater, so I am very familiar with the script. Unfortunately no other ShowBizRadio writers were able to come out to review the play, so I am doing it, since I already had plans to see the show. (We’re always looking for more writers, if you’re interested, contact me.)

Director’s Notes

Helen Keller once said, “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” Helen was describing a strong desire to speak (which she did accomplish), but this quote also shows her approach to being alive. Helen experienced life more fully, and embraced it more eagerly, than most. she knew that, even if one or two roads were closed to her, there were twice as many avenues open. Annie Sullivan, likewise, did not view Helen as someone who was restricted by what she lacked. She opened up Helen’s world and allowed her to see and hear as much as th rest of humanity. She would not consent to let Helen creep when she could soar.

This production has been a tremendous experience for me. It’s not often one gets the chance to bring to life such a powerful story. In preparing for the show, I read a book entitled “The Story of My Life.” It includes Helen’s autobiography, letters written by Helen and Annie and “A Supplementary Account of Helen’s Life and Education,” as researched and compiled by the editor. The book brought so much color to Helen Keller’s story and fleshed out several of the characters that appear in the play. I highly recommend it.

My cast has been excellent. Each actor has taken his role seriously and has worked tirelessly to create a character that is real. My production team has been a huge support, anxious to to make my vision a reality. I’ve learned that when I ask for help, there are a lot of folks ready and willing to give it. And, of course, I could never accomplish anything without constant support from my family and friends.

I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to bring to you The Miracle Worker. I hope this how is as rewarding for you to see as it was for me to work on.

Katherine Bisulca, Producer/Director

Cast

  • A Doctor: Don Wilson
  • Kate Keller: Colleen Close
  • Captain Arthur Keller: Scott Olson
  • Helen Keller: Rebecca Hausman
  • Martha: Emily Woods
  • Percy: Amber Miner
  • Aunt Ev: Mary Brick
  • James Keller: Stephen Keane
  • Anagnos: Eric Worcester
  • Annie Sullivan: Alexia Poe
  • Viney: Cathy Roberds
  • Beatrice: Emma Ekman
  • Alice: Lily-Grace Close
  • Laura: Victoria Baker
  • Sarah: MacKenzie Chandler
  • Young Annie Sullivan: Heather Bisulca
  • Jimmy Sullivan: Collin Chandler
  • First Crone: Kacie Greenwood-Ekman
  • Second Crone: Claudia Tameris
  • Man: David Forcier
  • Author: Don Wilson
  • Belle, the dog: Betsy

Crew

  • Producer/Director: Katherine Bisulca
  • Stage Manager: Lynn Lacey
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Laura Clark
  • Set Design: Katherine Bisulca, Gavin Tameris
  • Master Carpenter: Gavin Tameris
  • Set Construction: Gavin Tameris, Dale Carlsen, David Forcier, Don Wilson, Kevin Miner, Richard Prein, Jarrett Baker, Mark Chandler, Collin Chandler
  • Set Painting: Gavin Tameris, Hope Mitchell, Dorothy Jorgenson
  • Set Pieces and Decorating: Pat Janell
  • Prop Mistress: Pat Jannell, Rebecca Stockholm
  • Prop Runners: Hope Mitchell, Dorothy Jorgerson
  • Light Design: Dale Carlsen
  • Sound Design: Lynn Lacey
  • Music Design: Katherine Bisulca
  • Sound/Light Board Operators: Katre-Ka M. Goins-Williams, Dale Carlsen
  • Fight Choreography: Kevin Robertson
  • Dog Care/Supervision: Alan Davis, Dorothy Jorgerson
  • Hair/Makeup: Lolita-Marie Clayton
  • Costumes: Claudia Tameris, Sabrina Chandler
  • Front of House: Kathy Sahlberg, volunteers
  • Cover Art: Katherine Bisulca
  • Publicity: Kathy Gurchiek, Troy Caver, Don Wilson
  • Photography: James Jenkins
  • Interpreter for the Deaf: Student from Northern Virginia Community College

Disclaimer: Castaways Repertory Theatre provided a complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has performed in local productions, but prefers to be behind the scenes. Mike earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Online News Association.

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