The Miracle Worker
It’s a timeless story, so why hasn’t it been on Broadway in 50 years? The answer to this question is not apparent in the Broadway revival of The Miracle Worker,” currently in performances at the Circle in the Square Theater. The inspiring story and emotional appeal of this play is evident, despite the uneven production of it.
In a play where one of the main characters is mute, physical expressions are undeniably important, which makes the decision to stage The Miracle Worker in a theater in the round questionable. The Circle in the Square Theater is small and intimate, which is beneficial movements of the actors are hidden from the audience.
And these moments should not be missed in a production with two such qualified leading ladies. Oscar-nominee Abigail Breslin makes a brave Broadway debut as Helen. Such a role presents many challenges, not the least of which are that she does not speak throughout her entire performance. But Breslin commits herself completely to the role of Helen, creating a strong-willed, intelligent young woman without exaggerating the many physical aspects of the performance.
Alison Pill plays Annie Sullivan, the young woman who taught Helen to communicate. Orphaned, poor and formerly blind herself, Sullivan is a tough cookie and Pill gives a fierce performance as the steely, withdrawn and brilliant young woman. She also gives Annie a slight sense of humor, especially when conversing with the uptight and forthright Captain Keller (Matthew Modine). At times, Annie’s impassioned monologues about the power of language feel a bit over the top, but that is more due to the script than her performance.
The supporting cast includes Jennifer Morrison as Helen’s mother, Tobias Segal as her older brother and a feisty Elizabeth Franz as her aunt. All give solid performances, and Lance Chantiles-Wertz, as the spirit of Annie’s younger brother Jimmy, is especially moving to witness.
At times the staging feels forced or over the top, such as the music played before Jimmy’s appearances, which seems to be telling us, in case we didn’t know, this is a sad memory of Annie’s difficult childhood. Due to the structure of the theater, the furniture is suspended in the air above the stage and lifted or lowered for the scenes. This is an admirably efficient method of staging, but the lines holding the furniture are visible from the audience and sometimes block the view of the actors.
Despite the physical impediments of the performance, The Miracle Worker is a heartfelt, moving production that promises great things to come from both Pill and Breslin.