I just saw the newest edition on Broadway, The Miracle Worker by William Gibson play at the Circle in the Square Theatre with my cousin and 9-year-old son. I was unsure how my son would perceive this play since he had only ever seen musicals and New York plays are often better when you “leave the kids at home”. Let me just sum up our experience at The Miracle Worker with one word: phenomenal.
Prior to going to the show I asked my son if he knew who Helen Keller was. He had heard of her and knew she was both blind and deaf, but beyond that was unsure. He had not heard of Annie Sullivan, her teacher. I printed out the educational guide for teachers on the show’s website and reviewed it with my son to familiarize him with the story.
Upon entering the theater to take our seats I was immediately struck by the intimacy of the theater. It is arranged in an oval shape with no “real” stage. The stage is on the floor in the center of all the seats which are situated stadium style, looking down onto the stage. The patrons in the front row could literally reach out and touch the performers. The next thing I noticed was the lack of a set. There was no big backdrop and no flashy props. The only furnishings and props used were simple and necessary to the scene. The only object use to create separate rooms or an indoor/outdoor setting was a mere door frame. The rest was left to your imagination. This minimalist approach only added to the overall experience of the performance, keeping the attention on the performance itself.
The show opens to Katie and Captain Keller hovering over a cradle. The doctor assures them their daughter will live which sends relief through the worried parents. They quickly realize that she cannot see or hear them, which sent a new set of fears through them. We move on to see Helen as a 6-year-old child who is prone to throw tantrums. This seems to be her only way to communicate when she is frustrated. The family considers sending her to an asylum, but Aunt Ev insists they continue to seek the help of specialists.
It is here that Annie Sullivan is introduced. She moves from Boston to be Helen’s teacher. Annie has never had the chance to teach, having just graduated from the Perkins Institute. It is an adjustment for both Annie and the family, but her tenacity and determination enable her to teach Helen patiently and creatively. She immediately begins signing into Helen’s hand the names of every object she hands to her. Through games, discipline, a war of wills, and unending efforts, Annie gives Helen a language to use with the rest of the world.. Eventually, we see Helen’s brain begin to engage and understand the language that Annie has been trying to teach her. And as we often say, the rest is history.
I was surprised to learn that this was the Broadway debut for much of the cast. They appeared on stage as if they have been their all of their lives. The performances were extremely moving. I could feel the frustration and determination of Annie Sullivan played by Alison Pill along with the rest of the audience. 13-year-old, Abigail Breslin’s performance of Helen was believable. While she may not have needed to learn a lot of lines, the mannerisms of her character were captured beautifully. Overall, the show was very well written. It delivered the story of Helen and her Miracle Worker with a surprising infusion of light humor throughout.
My 9 year old son’s take on the performance:
“I liked it. I really liked the characters, especially how Annie Sullivan was teaching Helen to sign so she could talk. Even though it was a serious play it was a little funny too.” His observation that made me a proud mama and showed me he got it! “I can’t imagine being blind and deaf. It must be like living in a dark silent world”.
As a mom, I felt it was an appropriate play for my 9 year old and geared for children 8 years of age and up. I noticed other kids in the audience who looked to be approximately the same age. Due to the length of the performance and the intimacy of the theater, parents will need to use their judgment to determine whether their child can sit still in a $100 seat for a 2-hour show and enjoy it. (Kids under the age of 5 are not allowed to attend) If they are unfamiliar with Helen Keller, the synopsis sheet from the website’s educational guide was very useful in explaining the story to my son.
If you’ve got a tween or teen, be sure to bring them along to see The Miracle Worker. It will be a night they’ll remember. To purchase tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or buy online at Telecharge.com.