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"The Miracle Worker" Stars Abigail Breslin and Alison Pill at Circle in the Square
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"The Miracle Worker" Stars Abigail Breslin and Alison Pill at Circle in the Square

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The Miracle Worker

By William Gibson

Abigail Breslin as Helen Keller
Alison Pill as Annie Sullivan

Circle in the Square
(Circle in the Square Website)
50th Street, at 1633 Broadway

Also Starring:
Jennifer Morrison as Kate Keller
Elizabeth Franz as Aunt Ev
Matthew Modine as Captain Keller

Featuring: Tobias Segal, Daniel Oreskes, Michael Cummings,
Simone Joy Jones, Yvette Ganier, Lance Chantiles-Wertz

Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Scenery Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Original Music & Sound Design:
Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen
Hair Design: Charles LaPointe
Physical Coaching & Movement: Lee Sher
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Production Stage Manager: J. Philip Bassett
Production Management:
Juniper Street Productions, Kevin Broomell
Casting: Jay Binder/Jack Bowdan
General Management:
Alan Wasser-Allan Williams, Aaron Lustbader
Marketing: Type A Marketing
Executive Producer: Red Awning

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 10, 2010

As a former educator, I looked forward to the first revival of William Gibson’s 1959 The Miracle Worker. In fact, as a child, I lived for a time within view of the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. I grew up hearing about Helen Keller and spoke about her in my classroom years later. The current production at Circle in the Square was, for the most part, absorbing and illuminating. There were directorial and staging decisions that could have been different, enhancing the focus on young Abigail Breslin, as Helen, and Alison Pill, as her teacher, Annie Sullivan, but the action unfolded seamlessly. Scores of schoolchildren had been bussed in for tonight’s performance, but you could hear a pin drop when Helen said “Wa-Wa” for water.

Helen, a child afflicted with blindness and deafness, resulting from a “fever” (probably scarlet), was kept by her family like a wild child, allowed to eat with her fingers, grabbing and hitting and throwing, in a fight to communicate and survive. Ms. Breslin is in total command of Helen’s persona, as she shifts from laissez-faire to tightly controlled regulations. Annie Sullivan’s determination, performed with dynamism and persuasion by Alison Pill, could be called the original form of “tough love”. She created organization and meaning for the terrified child, lost in a world of silence and darkness, by teaching her the alphabet by touch, and the sequencing of letters and context of words. Suddenly Helen had praise and attention, autonomy and hope. The audience seemed visibly moved and thoughtfully engaged.

Annie’s own tortured childhood diseases, and the loss of her brother after they were placed in an orphanage, were poignantly treated in dramatic flashbacks, as were Helen’s family relationships prior to Annie’s arrival in 1887, and during Annie’s stressful tutelage deadline. The physicality and psychic war that ensued between teacher and student could have been so much more spotlighted with less busy staging. Furniture hung from the rafters, in this theatre in the round, and there was often action, silent but visible, at all corners of the changing stage, even as Helen and Annie created havoc and harmony, throughout the learning journey. The audience’s eye needed more direction, even if the only words we heard were Annie’s, over Helen’s monosyllabic moans. Helen’s peace of mind, a product of new language, was too abstract for overlapping melodrama. Kate Whoriskey, Director, might have rearranged entrances and exits.

Jennifer Morrison, as the conflicted Kate Keller, and Matthew Modine, as the commanding Captain Keller, never overshadowed Helen and Annie, in the vitality of their roles. Elizabeth Franz, as Aunt Ev, exuded mild chagrin, while Tobias Segal, as Helen's half brother, had moments of pique. Derek McLane’s sets, that rise and fall, were authentic and eye-catching, but, again, too much for this thoughtful drama. Paul Tazewell’s period costumes, for a comfortable family in the late 1800’s South, were detailed and uncluttered, and the Milburn-Bodeen sound and original music worked well in the round. It might be worth synthesizing this production for a smaller venue, fewer characters, and more spotlights. Ms. Pill and especially Ms. Breslin would be central and magnetic.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at