Getting out of the box
When author William Gibson – best known as a science fiction writer – ambled around the Stockbridge Public Library in Massachusetts in the mid-’50s, he found a tattered volume of letters written by Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher. The epistles inspired “The Miracle Worker,” which is being performed by the Montana Repertory Theatre at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Helen became blind and deaf at 19 months, after a severe illness. By age 6, she was a wild thing – eating off her parents’ plates, mewing her eerie cries, by turns clawing and tugging on the people around her. Without any discipline or teaching, she was imprisoned in the worst cell of all – one’s self.
There was nothing soft and sweet about Annie, who showed up on the Kellers’ doorstep for her first teaching post after graduating from the Perkins School for the blind. The scrappy young woman was full of resolve.
In the play’s most famous scene, Annie teaches Helen how to eat. Instead of messily shoveling in food, Helen is made to sit at the table with a napkin on her lap and a spoon in her hand. It’s truly a battle of wills, as Annie steadily “breaks” Helen the way a horse is broken. Communicating the only way they can – through touch – the scene plays as a silent wrestling match that “involved no men, no guns, no gratuitous violence.”
Annie was only able to help Helen because she, too, had at one time been blind (though she went through nine operations and eventually could see again). She and her brother were sent to state sanatorium after being orphaned, where their only toys were rats. Only her inimitable will to survive and thrive carried her to the Perkins school. Having been imprisoned in darkness herself at one time, she knew Helen could be more than a pet. It wasn’t only Helen who resisted Annie’s teaching; it was her parents, too, who, though they loved her, didn’t believe she could be taught. They were wrong.
“Security is mostly a superstition,” says Helen Keller in the play. “It does not exist in nature. … Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
The Montana Rep has a strong national presence. Artistic Director Greg Johnson has directed several productions on Broadway, including “Biloxi Blues,” “Crimes of the Heart, ” and “Is There Life After High School?”
“With “The Miracle Worker,’ the company continues its tradition of telling the great stories of our time,” he wrote. “This heartfelt and enlightening look at courage and human perseverance against great odds has been moving audiences for decades.”
The cast of the play includes the Watson family – parents Bill and Nancy (Mr. and Mrs. Keller), Jordan (Helen) and Bonnie (other children). The natural chemistry between the actors has become invaluable to the production, which is ultimately a look at human relationships.
For more information about the performance, contact the Vilar Center Box Office at 845-TIXS or visit http://www.VilarCenter.org.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.