Theatre Review: “The Miracle Worker” at Swift Creek Mill
William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker” highlights the start of what would turn out to be a life-long companionship between Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan.
Helen was born a healthy child, but a severe illness struck when she was only 19-months-old and it left her deaf and blind. Her family, torn about whether or not to institutionalize Helen, employs the young Sullivan, a former pupil at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, to teach Helen how to communicate. Sullivan is only 20 and was once blind herself, but has undergone several surgeries to regain most of her vision. In only 30 days with Sullivan, Helen has a major breakthrough in her development, forever changing both their lives.
The life of Helen Keller has always fascinated me, and when I went home after the show I couldn’t stop looking up articles about her. She was a truly fascinating woman. She was a political activist, author and close friend of none other than Mark Twain. I’m sure that is part of the reason why Width chose to produce the play again because it truly is one of the best stories ever told.
Directed by Swift Creek Mill’s in-house director, Tom Width, who also plays Helen’s father Captain Keller, this is the Mill’s third time over 20 years telling this fascinating story. For this production, Width casts Audra Honaker in the role of the headstrong and driven Sullivan. Honaker is beyond amazing in this role and while I always enjoy watching her, I must say I was particularly enthralled this time around. Honaker’s performance is most certainly the strongest of this production.
Isabella Cippolina played Helen in Saturday’s show and she is fantastic, never breaking character for a second. It is obvious that Helen has been spoiled by her family who has no idea how to handle her. And Cippolina has some light and funny moments as she exhibits Helen’s stubbornness and sense of entitlement. Honaker and Cippolina are fantastic together and seem to have a genuine bond.
I have to say it was fun to see Tom Width on stage; as this was my first time watching him act. Width plays the role of Captain Keller very well; as I’m sure he has done in all three productions at the Mill. He is strong and has a commanding presence as the Captain. Lisa Kotula’s performance as Kate Keller, Helen’s mother, is endearing. Kotula’s natural elegance translates perfectly to the role of the southern belle.
Width’s set is very tastefully decorated and well-appointed. Maura Cravey’s costumes are extremely well made as always, which is very important in a theatre like the Mill’s because you can see everything as the setting of the theatre is very intimate. The attention to detail in the Mill’s productions never ceases to amaze me.
“The Miracle Worker” is playing at Swift Creek Mill through February 15th.
www.swiftcreekmill.com for tickets and show times
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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