Warwick, R.I — “Everything has a name!”
The telling exclamation of Annie Sullivan, played by Boston actress Brittany Rolfs, repeats again and again to young Helen Keller, played by Laurel McMahon, in Ocean State Theatre’s current production, “The Miracle Worker.”
As Helen’s teacher, Annie’s job is to teach the blind, deaf, and mute Helen how to communicate, and in the process, to unlock the child’s potential. Annie faced a formidable task, especially in light of the Keller family’s history of allowing their child, who they considered “ damaged” and “pitiful”, to hold them hostage with her unchecked behavior.
“The Miracle Worker”, William Gibson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, is currently on stage at Ocean State Theatre in Warwick through April 17. This remarkable, true story highlights Annie’s introduction to the Keller family, her struggles to reach Helen and bring her out of her dark and silent cage into a world of ideas and understanding, and the relationship that develops between teacher and student. This is a powerful drama, with scenes of deep emotion and poignancy.
The two lead actors, Annie and Helen, have a chemistry that shines through in their interactions throughout the play. Helen, portrayed by Laurel McMahon, is no stranger to Ocean State Theatre Company. Laurel is a fifth grade student at Warwick’s St. Rose of Lima School and has performed in a number of Ocean State productions as well as with Rhode Island Youth Theatre and other organizations. She delivers an outstanding performance in a role that is delivered entirely without speech. Brittany Rolfs, as Annie, also delivers a top-notch performance, holding the audience spellbound as we witness brief glimpses into her own traumatic childhood and her fierce determination to reach Helen.
Helen’s father, Captain Keller, played by Kevin McGlynn, often appears painfully bewildered as to how his family devolved into its’ grim day to day reality. His wife Kate, played by Kristin Wetherington, is the first in the family to recognize that Annie may be the key to saving Helen.
Joseph Depietro’s portrayal of Helen’s older brother, James, was intriguing. In this supporting role, he forces the audience to take notice of his character. Throughout the course of the play, he evolves from skeptic to believer, and becomes one of Annie’s biggest supporters; and following her example of tenacity and temerity, stands up to his over-bearing father.
In the pivotal scene towards the end of the play, where Annie is fighting with the Captain to maintain control over Helen, James rises from his seat to confront his Father and tells him “…, I’m right, and you’re wrong. If you drive her (Annie) away from here it will be over my dead—chair, has it never occurred to you that on one occasion you might be consummately wrong?”
The staging was, as often is the case at OSTC, simple but effective. The lighting was used to great effect to create an ambience reflecting early evenings and late nights in the deep south of Alabama.
The recent passing of Patti Duke, who brought Helen’s story to stage and screen and became the youngest recipient of a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Helen, is yet another reason to be sure you see this show… The Miracle Worker is a timeless story of courage, strength, and determination.
The Miracle Worker will be at the OSTC through April 17. Performances are $39 to $59 and will be held Wednesday (except April 6),Thursday, Fridayand Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm, with matinees on Thursdays (exceptApril 14), Saturdays at 2 p.m. (except April 2 & 9) and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office (Monday – Friday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.), by phone at 401-921-6800, or online.
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