BWW Review: Riveting Drama THE MIRACLE WORKER is at Carrollwood Players Theatre
Much like how her youth predecessor Maggie Gamson captivated us in The Diary of Anne Frank, Kaedin is a name you won't soon forget. Though she says but one word, this twelve-year actress evokes emotional complexity with looks and guttural sounds as Helen Keller in Carrollwood Players Theatre's Mainstage production, The Miracle Worker.
Most all of us know the true-life story of famed blind and deaf author Helen Keller and her lifelong friend and teacher Annie Sullivan. A childhood illness robbed Helen of her sight and hearing. Despite lack of experience, her family tried to raise Helen as best they could. In desperation to control her unruly behavior as she aged and to communicate with her, they hired Annie Sullivan, a poor Irish immigrant from Boston who had suffered vision loss and knew sign language.
Director Ann Lehman has produced a gem of a production and I expect both she, the cast, producer team, and the show itself will be forerunners for the theatre's annual Nancy Awards.
Though playing blind and deaf can be a huge challenge to an actor thrice her age, the talented young Kaedin shed her real-life bubbly talkative personality and transformed on stage - giving a raw and riveting performance as Helen. She genuinely reflected the frustrations of a child completely isolated, communicating through mainly bad behavior and guttural utterances. This young actress never once broke character and was completely convincing as a child oblivious to anything happening around her.
And you can't mention Helen without describing the sometimes petulant, spirited Annie Sullivan played to perfection by Autumn Pandolfo. Simply put, Autumn was completely believable - she was Annie Sullivan.
Autumn captured Annie's distaste for the family's overindulgence of Helen by her rich Southern Alabama family. Upon her arrival, she assessed the family dynamic and took immediate and unexpected action - asking the family to leave the breakfast table to allow her to deal one-on-one with the stubborn combative child.
There was a natural chemistry between the two actresses and the physically-exhausting and emotionally-wrought battles between Annie and Helen were the play's most compelling scenes.
Only given two weeks to make progress with Helen, Annie worked tireless to reach her. Autumn's portrayal of Annie was heartfelt and sincere, and she commanded every minute she is on stage.
Helen's loving but desperate parents were played by Kenneth Grace as the well-intended, but frustrated father Captain Arthur Keller and Tynan Pruett as the overindulgent mother, Kate Keller. They both shone in scenes with Kaedin.
As Helen's half-brother James, Maverick Gagliano matured into a caring young man who confronted his father, the more success Annie had with Helen.
Outstanding performances were also given by Ron Pandolfo as the Doctor and Patricia Coyle as the prim and proper Aunt Ev. Both Brenda Adams as Viney and Jai Love Garriga as Martha could say more with a facial expression than spoken words ever could.
The play's period costumes were authentic and gorgeous. The beautiful set, complete with running water well, divided up into sections so that each area was a different place in the story while clever lighting allowed for easy transitions, and limited scene changes.
There are just two days remaining for your chance to see this moving production of The Miracle Worker. Despite already knowing the story, bring tissues. During the last five minutes of the performance - greeted by a standing ovation - you can't help but tear up at Annie and Helen's breakthrough. This tour de force performance should not be missed.
The Miracle Worker runs Friday and Saturday, February 2 and 3 at 8pm at Carrollwood Players Theatre, 4333 Gunn Hwy., Tampa. Learn more and order tickets at www.carrollwoodplayers.org.