By Tara Bennett
Sometimes telling a well-known story can make a theatre’s job very easy. Sometimes it can put on the pressure.
The Miracle Worker is based on Helen Keller’s autobiography, “The Story of My Life.” Blind, deaf and mute since infancy Keller is unable to communicate and fit in society. As Keller becomes more frustrated and violent, her family nearly abandons all hope for her. In desperation, her parents seek help from the Perkins Institute, and are sent a “half-blind Yankee schoolgirl” tutor named Annie Sullivan, who is Keller’s last hope to have a sense of normalcy.
Premiering on Broadway in 1959, The Miracle Worker starred Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller. Bancroft and Duke reunited in 1962 for the film version, which won three Academy Awards. To this day, multiple theater companies across the world produce The Miracle Worker. The play will open at Theatre Baton Rouge on Friday, Oct. 30, and will run through November 15 with performances Thursday–Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. and one Saturday matinee on November 7 at 2 p.m.
There’s a reason The Miracle Worker is still being produced worldwide almost 60 years after its premiere, and it’s not just that Keller’s story is widely known. It’s that the perseverance exhibited by the characters.
“I think it’s a snapshot of one of the most extraordinary human triumphs we have ever witnessed in the history of the human race,” said Jenny Ballard, TBR’s artistic director and co-director. “For Annie Sullivan, who is virtually a child, to achieve what she achieves with Helen. And for Helen, who has no understanding of anything that Annie was trying to teach her, but still has the presence of mind and willingness to learn. I think both characters are extraordinary.”
“I think it’s a beautiful story based on truth,” said Jack Lampert, TBR’s educational director and co-director. “The script is so beautifully written and heartwarming.”
History has shown that the two women would have a lasting friendship beyond the events of The Miracle Worker, with Keller staying by Sullivan’s beside right before she passed away.
“I just think that is amazing,” said Ballard. “Not only is it an amazing story about the triumph, dedication, hard work, love and sacrifice, but it also a story about an unbelievable friendship that spans years and years.”
With having two strong characters based off of real life figures, it will take actors with serious chops to portray these inspirational characters. Megan Barrios plays the role of Annie Sullivan with Susie Lucas in the role of Helen Keller. Lucas must convey to the audience that she is blind, deaf and mute, and according to Ballard, she was the top choice for the role.
“She had done so much research that by the time she even came into the audition she was very convincingly blind,” said Ballard. “She came in ready to go with it.”
This particular TBR production is also done in collaboration with the Young Actor’s Program and the Capital City Series. This is so that the young actors can experience a taste of what it is like to perform on TBR’s stage.
“It’s very eye-opening for them,” said Lampert. “It’s a very wonderful process.”
With having two directors, there may be concern that the directing styles will clash, however that is not the case with this production as Ballard and Lampert together have created a much richer show utilizing their strengths.
“Jenny directs from within the text… and I have a good sense of insight into the roles,” said Lampert.
“Working with Jack has been great,” said Ballard. “I think that we have found everything that can be found within this play as a result of working together.”
Additionally, TBR will be partnering with the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired for this production. Representatives from LSVI will be on site for post-performance discussions.
Tickets are $25 for individuals, $20 for students with their student ID. The Miracle Worker is rated “PG.” To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact the box office at 225-924-6496 or visit the TBR website theatrebr.org.