BWW Review: THE MIRACLE WORKER Opens at The Coterie Theatre in Kansas City
A true work of genius appeared on The Coterie Theatre stage on Friday September 23 with the opening of THE MIRACLE WORKER. William Gibson wrote the play adapted from his 1957 Playhouse 90 teleplay of the same name. Helen Keller's autobiography, "The Story of My Life," was the basis for the play.
Afflicted with an illness the infant Helen Keller is rendered her a blind deaf-mute. Her parents and other members of the family deal with the situation by giving into every bad action that Helen throws there way. Physical abuse of her sibling and parents, using her hands to eat off everyone's plate, and tantrums of screaming and kicking. Kate Keller, her mother convinces her husband that something has to be done and he reluctantly hires Annie Sullivan to serve as a governess and teacher to Helen. The conflicts continue as Annie tries desperately to teach Helen and to undo the damage that the family unknowingly did to Helen's behavior and temperament.
THE MIRACLE WORKER opened on Broadway at the Playhouse Theatre on October 19, 1959 and starred Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller. After 719 performances, the play closed on July 1, 1961. Patty Duke had remained with the play until its closing and Susanne Pleshette had replaced Bancroft as Annie. The Broadway production received six Tony Award nominations winning four of them, including Best Play, Best Actress for Anne Bancroft, and Best Direction. Patty Duke won the Theatre World Award for the production.
"The Coterie is attempting a new way of performing THE MIRACLE WORKER that we believe is highlighting the strengths of the story while recognizing other important aspects of the production: our play will be not only shadow interpreted above the main action, but also audio described live by the actors as part of the performance. To accomplish this, we've created a visual description script that is embedded into the main action." Producing Artistic Director Jeff Church.
Vanessa Severo is phenomenal in the role of Annie Sullivan, attempting to break old habits and teach Helen to be more civilized. Her performance is powerful and committed, causing jaws to drop at the intensity she delivers. Severo has proven herself a highly sought-after actor in dramatic and musical roles, but in THE MIRACLE WORKER, she takes her performance and the audience to a higher level than ever before achieved.
Josephine Pellow a homeschooled 12-year-old presents one of the most dynamic performances I have seen at The Coterie or any other Kansas City theater. If her performance in THE MIRACLE WORKER is a preview of what is to come, look out world it is going to be a magnificent ride.
Joining the cast is Walter Coppage as Captain Keller and Jennifer Mays as Kate. Both are among the finest actors in Kansas City and give fabulous performances in their respective roles. This is the second time Mays has appeared in a story about Helen Keller, having previously appeared in the CBS television movie "Monday After the Miracle."
This miraculous production of THE MIRACLE WORKER continues at The Coterie Theatre through October 25. Purchase tickets by calling the box office at 816-474-655 or visit The Coterie Theatre website. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder and video courtesy of The Coterie Theatre.