Cerissa Marsh as Annie Sullivan, Bronwyn Doebbeling as Helen Keller, Dr. Caroline Carney as Kate Keller and Gary Roberts as Capt. Keller in "The Miracle Worker"

Cerissa Marsh as Annie Sullivan, Bronwyn Doebbeling as Helen Keller, Dr. Caroline Carney as Kate Keller and Gary Roberts as Capt. Keller in “The Miracle Worker”

Mrs K. and I, with our granddaughter Hanna this time, closed out our weekend of American classic plays by visiting Greenfield’s Rick-Weils Theatre Co. for their production of The Miracle Worker, the biographical play of Helen Keller’s early life and the influence on her of Annie Sullivan, written by William Gibson. This is our first visit to this theatre and for those of you who have not experienced it yet, the company uses an old movie house for their productions which seems to work very well in terms of comfort and versatility. The drive there was only 40 minutes from our Northside home.

Of course, “The Miracle Worker” is so often done at high schools and colleges; it was very nice to see it being produced with a fully age-appropriate cast. The play derives from a 1957 television broadcast on Playhouse 90 which was then adapted for the Broadway stage’s 1959 production. Interestingly, the title comes from Mark Twain’s description of Sullivan as a “miracle worker”. Twain’s financial support helped send Helen Keller to Radcliffe College.

This is an especially well-cast production, I think. Director Kathy Hoefgen was able to find a very promising young actress to play Helen. Bronwyn Doebbeling is a 12 yr old 6th grader who first “hit the stage” in 2010 as part of IRT’s A Christmas Carol. (I know her personally from having played her grandfather in a short film called Flight Adventures for the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis). She is a special young talent and that talent shines in this portrayal. Matched with her Helen is Cerissa Marsh, another talented local performer, as Annie Sullivan. Ms. Marsh is a very convincing Sullivan – passionate, unsure and caring. These are two difficult roles. They require a lot of work to operate as a unit and these two ladies were more than up to the task. I was especially impressed with their dinner table scene, where Annie teaches Helen to eat from her own plate with a spoon. Timing, practiced interaction and improvisation for the many variables that occurred were a big part in making this scene a success. Also, the emotion of the final scenes was extremely well-done and certainly had the desired effect.

Other major roles were adroitly handled by Gary Roberts’ in a solid performance as Helen’s stubborn father Captain Keller and the wonderfully talented Dr. Caroline Carney in a breakout appearance as Helen’s mother Kate Keller. (It just so happens that Dr. Carney is the girl playing Helen’s real-life Mom, and hasn’t been on stage since college). Beth Ray Scott lovingly plays Helen’s Aunt Ev and Mike Dapoz does good work in dual roles as Doctor and Mr. Anagnos.

Children of various ages complete the cast. Two standouts were Andrew Cable as Helen’s oldest half-brother James, and Hanna Varrone as cook and maid Viney. Both do formidable jobs.

This is quite a hard play to produce. There are many scene locations, plus two of the three factors that traditionally make for a challenging production – food and children (the third being animals). Director Hoefgen meets all of the challenges, using a set design replete with upper levels, off-stage acting areas, and complete theatre use – aisles included. Though sometimes the action is uneven in the very strictest sense – most of the individual scenes are quite well done – certainly the most important ones are. This is also a long play. Wisely, the breaks between the three acts were handled as one long intermission and a 5 minute stretch, which I really appreciated. Also, not everyone likes to or will cut plays for production, but personally, I might have looked at this option with some intent.

I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the standout features of this show – the excellent costuming done by Shannon Cable. Dresses worn by the ladies (and there were many) were well-crafted, period costumes that any stage or film company would be pleased to have for their productions. All the characters’ costumes had details in fashion and coordination that were extremely well done. Surely these are a candidate for one of my end of year “awards”.

Overall, this was a valuable and worthwhile production to see. The lessons of the script and the persons portrayed are very important to remember, I think. The production was certainly enjoyable and as I said, had the intended result.

Make reservations for the final three performances (March 8, 9 & 10) by calling 317-410-6319. Fri/Sat shows are at 7:30 pm and the Sunday matinee is at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $10 and for this special production, students accompanied by an adult are admitted free. The venue is located at 122 W. Main St. in Greenfield IN.