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The Miracle Worker

Mention holidays and miracles in the same breath and most people think of biblical events of cosmic proportions. Its a shame that such conceptions have removed the expectation of extraordinary events in common people's lives, because, as the story of Helen Keller shows, miracles are, at their most basic level, simply a change in our perception of reality.

Daria LeGrand as Helen Keller
Daria LeGrand
as Helen Keller
Photo: Terry Shapiro
No less an authority on human behavior than Mark Twain called Keller one of the two most extraordinary persons of the 19th century (the other being Napoleon). She was the first deaf and blind person to graduate from college (Radcliffe). All this was made possible by Annie Sullivan, a no-nonsense, rough and tumble orphan, half-blind herself. It was Twain who dubbed her a "miracle worker."

Helen's extraordinary life serves as an inspiration to millions, many of whom learn about her through William Gibson's play based on her 1903 autobiography, The Story of My Life, and Nella Braddy's 1933 biography, Anne Sullivan Macy. Originally a teleplay that aired in 1957 on CBS's Playhouse 90, the piece was later adapted for the stage and ran for 700 performance on Broadway, beginning in 1959. The 1962 film won Oscars for Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.

(Left to right) Kate Hurster as Annie Sullivan and Daria LeGrand as Helen Keller
(L to R) Kate Hurster as Annie Sullivan
and Daria LeGrand as Helen Keller
Photo: Terry Shapiro
The power of the play is timeless, as we experience in the Denver Center Theatre Company's stunning production now running at the Space Theatre. Director Art Manke's cast is pitch-perfect throughout.

Kate Hurster, as Annie Sullivan, and Daria LeGrand, as Helen Keller, go at each other like there's no tomorrow, which is the simple truth for both their characters at this point in their lives. Hurster, a third-year graduate student at the center's National Theatre Conservatory, bristles with Sullivan's gritty determination, yet shows painful vulnerability to the voices of Sullivan's childhood demons. LeGrand, a thirteen year old prodigy, is nothing short of astonishing as the spoiled and untamed seven-year old Helen. Geoffrey Kent's staging of the girls' fights brings home the depth of Sullivan's effort in awakening Keller's intelligence.

(Left to right) Kate Hurster as Annie Sullivan and Daria LeGrand as Helen Keller
(L to R) Kate Hurster as Annie Sullivan
and Daria LeGrand as Helen Keller
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Poignant performances heighten the conflicts among the Keller family over the child's care. Rachel Fowler, as Helen's mother, Kate, is luminescent in her love for the girl, while deeply torn between her husband's and Annie's approaches. John Hutton, as Colonel Arthur Keller, provides a healthy dose of patriarchal inflexability, serving as the principal antagonist to both Annie and his son, James, yet leaves enough wiggle room for genuine hope.

Leigh Miller, as James, and Jeanne Paulsen, as Aunt Ev, add significant depth and complexity to the familial dynamics. Marcus Waterman, as Mr. Anagnos, gives credibility to Annie's education and methodology, which fortify her during the rough courtship she experiences with the Kellers.

(Left to right) John Hutton as Captain Arthur Keller, Rachel Fowler as Kate Keller, Leigh Miller as James Keller, Daria LeGrand as Helen Keller and Kate Hurster as Annie Sullivan
(L to R) John Hutton as Captain Arthur Keller,
Rachel Fowler as Kate Keller,
Leigh Miller as James Keller,
Daria LeGrand as Helen Keller
and Kate Hurster as Annie Sullivan
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Sound design by Morgan A. McCauley, music composition by Steven Cahill, and lighting design by Charles R. MacLeod provide gripping atmospheric shading for the edgy emotional landscape of the story. Angela Balogh Calin's costumes and Tom Buderwitz' scenic design lend period authenticity.

With humanity at its crossroads, facing decisions that will determine whether and how it survives, this tale of a simple miracle speaks directly to our plight. The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of The Miracle Worker runs through December 20th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows

 

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