BWW Review: THE MIRACLE WORKER at The Lofte is Intense, Emotional Theater
You know a play is good if it moves you. If it moves you to tears, it's really good. And if it moves you to tears mixed with laughter, it is almost a miracle.
THE MIRACLE WORKER at The Lofte Community Theatre in Manley, Nebraska produced by The Born-in-a-Barn Players is the most moving piece of work I've seen since FUN HOME in New York. Written by William Gibson, the 1962 film won Best Actress for Anne Bancroft and Best Supporting Actress for Patty Duke. It is the story many of us will remember of Helen Keller and her tenacious teacher Annie Sullivan.
When the baby born to Captain Keller and his wife Kate becomes ill and is left blind, deaf, and mute, they are so beaten by her condition that they allow her to grow without boundaries. By six years old, Helen is eating from everybody's plate, throwing tantrums, and making life miserable for her parents, her brother James, her aunt Ev, and the housekeeper Viney. Kate convinces the Captain to take on a teacher, Annie Sullivan, who has just graduated from a school for the blind herself. Annie's limited eyesight compels her to help others suffering from the same condition. Annie finds living with the Kellers difficult, but refuses to give up. She did that once and cannot forget it. Annie is told that no one expects miracles. She does. She knows that Helen is intelligent and that language is the key to breaking Helen out of her darkness. "Language is to the mind as light is to the eye."
The entire play is one of Struggle. Love. Patience. And Victory.
Rosalie Duffy is a fine Kate who shows unshakeable maternal love. Wade Mumford as James is relatable as the forgotten brother who longs to connect with his stern father. He is frustrated by the wild child, his sister, but still cares for her. Brenda J. Jones as Viney, the housekeeper, delivers quips that lighten the tension. The entire cast is darn good.
But let me talk about these three.
Kevin Colbert, Artistic Director of the Lofte with more than 50 years and 290 shows to his credit, is a tormented Captain Keller. Although Colbert often does comedy, he proves that he is equally adept at serious work. His portrayal of Captain Keller irks with his dismissal of his son, James, and willingness to take the easier path with his daughter, Helen. Yet, when asked if he likes his own child, there is a telling moment of silence that puts a lump in your throat. Colbert is exceptional at exposing the depth of character in this complex father.
Brenna J. Thompson as Annie Sullivan gathers momentum during the play and becomes more and more ingrained in your soul. She remembers her brother, Jimmy (Skylar Radloff), who begs her not to leave him in heartbreaking flashbacks. We learn of her desperate childhood living in a facility for orphans, the sick, and the unwanted. We hear of her several surgeries on her eyes and the pain associated with light. She insists she doesn't love Helen, "I don't even love her. She's not my child," and then her actions call her a liar. The physicality of her struggles with Helen and her own feelings are raw and intense.
And then there is Emma Johnson. This Marian High School student and former Nebraska Theatre Caravan member, blew me away with her interpretation of Helen Keller. Her animal sounds, her groping hands, her violent anger and frustration are so real and hurtful. She is astonishing.
You don't need big and glorious sets. You don't need elaborate costumes. You don't need professional actors to tell a story like this. You need passion and sensitivity. The emotional roller coaster this cast took me on left me feeling as if my heart had been sandblasted. What makes it even more poignant is that it's a biographical portrayal of some incredible women heroes.
If you don't know where The Lofte Theater is, Google Map it. It's the big red barn in the middle of a field in Manley. Go straight south on Highway 50 past Louisville and Springfield. The theater is a treat in itself. But combined with THE MIRACLE WORKER, it could be the best little jog off the beaten path you've taken in a long while.
The remaining showtimes are June 7, 8, and 9 at 7:00 pm, and June 10 at 2:00 pm.