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  • Heather Osteraa

“The Miracle Worker” Extracts Light from Darkness in William Gibson’s Biographical Drama

“One word, and I can put the world in your hand…” ANNE SULLIVAN

The Western Stage is proud to open their 45th season with “The Miracle Worker,” the story of young Helen Keller, rendered blind, deaf, and mute from illness, and unable to communicate. Through persistence, love, and sheer stubbornness, tutor Annie Sullivan breaks through the silence and darkness that surround Helen, bringing the world to her once again.

PERFORMS: June 1 – 22, 2019 in the Studio Theatre, Hartnell College Performing Arts Center, K116. or at the Box Office: 831-755-6816 (Open Tues – Sat, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.).

Based on Helen Keller’s 20th Century autobiography, The Story of My Life, William Gibson’s play takes place in the late 1880’s in Tuscumbia, Alabama. An illness renders infant Helen Keller blind, deaf, and consequently mute. Pitied and badly spoiled by her parents, Helen is taught no discipline and, by the age of six, grows into a wild, angry, tantrum-throwing child in control of the household. Desperate, the Kellers hire Annie Sullivan to serve as governess and teacher for their daughter. After several fierce battles with Helen, Annie convinces the Kellers that she needs two weeks alone with Helen in order to achieve any progress in the girl’s education. In that time, Annie teaches Helen discipline through persistence and consistency, and language through hand signals; a double breakthrough that changes Helen’s life and has a direct effect on the lives of everyone in the family.

Language is exalted as the miracle maker for Helen Keller, bridging the void between oblivion and understanding. “Language is to the mind more than light is to the eye,” Annie quotes from her mentor. Yet, for “The Miracle Worker,” the play is most effective when it is wordless. For the 13 year old actor playing Helen Keller (Colette Gsell), it is a formidable endeavor to portray the gradual and complex discovery of language without uttering a single line. Equally formidable a role is her tenacious teacher, Annie Sullivan, played by Chelsea Simmons, who relentlessly spars with Helen, knowing her pupil cannot see, hear, or understand her.

Thoughts from the Director:

“The story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan is an iconic tale woven into the fabric of our American identity. In many ways, it embodies the best of what we as a nation and we as a united people should strive for: perseverance, tolerance, acceptance, equality, and the belief that through unbridled optimism, we can leap boldly and courageously into the unknown in order to push the boundaries of what we once considered attainable—that through determination and sheer will we can better level the playing field in an often unequal society.

My hope in re-staging the iconic tale of these remarkable young women is two-fold: first, to remind us all that Helen’s story is universal. We all have a voice—a need—inside of us aching to be understood, and if we surrender ourselves to the grace of others, that voice will be heard. Secondly, I hope that our audiences leave the theatre illuminated by one simple, transformative fact: that we are the authors of the miracles we seek, and once we accept that—once we open our minds and feel with our hearts—anything is possible.” – Justin Gordon, Director of TWS’ “The Miracle Worker”

Helen Keller went on to become the first deaf blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree and is the published author of 12 books and a series of essays and articles. She co-founded Helen Keller International in 1915 and worked for the American Foundation for the Blind for more than 40 years. She was a vocal supporter of women’s right to vote and their right to birth control. In 1920, Keller co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Keller also campaigned for equal rights for African Americans, socialism, and anti-militarism. Helen Keller traveled across the world making appearances and giving speeches. She not only spoke for the rights of people with disabilities but also for other unprivileged sections of society. Between 1946 and 1957, Keller made seven trips across the world visiting 35 countries on five continents and meeting with world leaders. An inspiration to millions of people around the world, Helen Keller received numerous awards and honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Legion of Honour.

Anne Sullivan contracted an eye disease at age five that led to near blindness. Three years later, her mother died and her father abandoned Anne and her brother, leaving them in an almshouse, where Anne’s brother died three months into their stay. Anne remained at the almshouse where she had eye operations that offered some short-term relief, but ultimately proved ineffective. After some persuasion, she was allowed to leave the almshouse to attend the Perkins School for the Blind, where she learned to read, write, and sew. While there, she received a series eye operations that significantly improved her vision. She graduated at age 20, valedictorian of her class, and was shortly thereafter, employed by the Kellers. Anne would remain by Helen’s side until her death in 1936—a 49-year relationship.

Production History

The play premiered on Broadway at the Playhouse Theatre on October 19, 1959,(after Gibson’s 1957 teleplay of the same name) and closed on July 1, 1961, after 719 performances. The production was directed by Arthur Penn with scenic and lighting design by George Jenkins and costumes by Ruth Morley. The cast starred Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the play, it was revived on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre, opening on March 3, 2010. Directed by Kate Whoriskey, the cast starred Alison Pill as Sullivan and Abigail Breslin as Keller.

This event is wheelchair accessible. Individuals requiring sign-language interpreters, real-time captioners, or other accommodations should contact the Box Office at least one week prior to the event: 831-755-6816

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