The Miracle Worker by Conestoga High School in Berwyn, PA
November 20, 2018
Review submitted by Phoebe Barr of Episcopal Academy
The story of Helen Keller, of a blind and deaf child who grew to be a prolific author and activist, is compelling in its own right. The Miracle Worker delivers the powerful tale of the once-blind governess Annie Sullivan who teaches Helen language. With first-rate design and impressive talent, Conestoga High School brought this dual narrative to life.
Helen Keller’s world is defined by loneliness. She wants to communicate with those around her, especially her loving family, but she doesn’t know how. Only one person is patient enough to teach her and to discipline her like a seeing and hearing child: Annie Sullivan, a young Yankee woman eager to escape her past and to prove herself. Despite initially clashing, Annie persists to reach Helen’s brilliant mind in the end.
The show’s most defining characteristic was its polish. The student-designed sets were beautifully built, the lighting transitions were smooth, and the actors were clear and loud. The two leads, Annie (Tara Moon) and Helen (Sasha Reeder) had striking stage presence, Moon lending great gravitas to her role and Reeder conveying impressive depth of character without speaking a word or even looking at her fellow performers. Their chemistry ranged from hilarious to heartfelt and was certainly the highlight of the play.
The supporting cast, mostly comprised of Helen’s family, expanded the show’s theme of communication. Helen’s father (JP Infortuna) and brother James (Thomas Simmons) fought because of their inability to understand each other; Helen’s mother (Brookelyn McAllister), meanwhile, lamented her inability to reach Helen. The father’s stiff, uncompromising nature clashed humorously with the young, ambitious Annie, and James’ sarcastic remarks livened every family scene. Each family member helped support the central story, and each actor took to their part with gusto.
The technical elements of the show were especially strong. A multi-story house complete with a working water pump dominated the stage, with a shed serving as a smaller set for key scenes. The lighting and the music, most noticeable in Annie’s flashback scenes, immersed the audience further in the story. The Conestoga Set Building Crew was made up of more than sixty students, and it showed.
The Miracle Worker tells a touching story, one that inspires blind and deaf, seeing and hearing alike. However, it was the effort of Conestoga’s cast and crew, their skillful sets, lighting, costumes, and performances, that ultimately allowed the show to touch the audience, as well.
Review submitted by Olivia Cipperman of Episcopal Academy
How do we connect with, and make a difference in, the world? For deaf and blind child Helen Keller, the question seems to have no answer. Nevertheless, Helen yearns to solidify her understanding of every person and object she encounters. Everything “has a name,” and Helen has agency, if only she can discover how to express it.
William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker documents Annie Sullivan’s efforts to bring language into Helen Keller’s world. In the process, Annie works to prove her own personal worth. Annie and Helen ultimately empower each other to claim agency over a world that wants to deny it because of their gender and disabilities. Annie accomplishes something that, by all accounts, seems a miracle: Helen learns the meaning of language, and the Keller family learns to value their daughter’s personhood and individuality.
Conestoga High School’s production shined in its crisp choreography and stellar technical design. Sequences of physical struggle between Annie and Helen were embodied through visceral force of the emotional struggle between and within both characters. The set consisted mainly of the Keller house, which student technicians designed and built with precision and historical accuracy. A working water pump sat in the forefront of the stage which provided both the key to Helen’s understanding of language and an immersive effect for the audience.
Tara Moon as Annie Sullivan effectively presented a levelheaded yet inexperienced mentor to Helen Keller. Sasha Reeder as Helen provided an astonishingly convincing performance, even without the use of speech. Her physical acting demonstrated Helen’s frustration and impish spirit, and she left no holds barred in her tantrums and fights with Annie.
The supporting cast bolstered the performances of the leads. The Keller family provided thematically consistent subplots and some much-needed humor. The comic timing and brassy bluster of Captain Keller (JP Infortuna) contrasted well with the desperate, quiet sincerity of his wife, Kate (Brookelyn McAllister). James Keller (Thomas Simmons) provided a snarky contrast to his more courteous parents.
The show ran neatly – an impressive feat, given the number of vases broken, food hurled, and spoons thrown. The costuming allowed The Miracle Worker the feeling of a rich period piece, and attention to color (such as Kate’s affinity for red, or Helen’s for blue) subtly differentiated the personalities of the characters.
Conestoga High School put on a polished production of a simple, strong story in The Miracle Worker. Its technical prowess was truly commendable, and its actors took to their roles with finesse.