Even if you've never seen "The Miracle Worker" on stage or screen, which seems unlikely, you probably know the story in some detail. Blind and deaf since infancy, Helen Keller seems destined to live her life in stark isolation. No one has the power or will to help her. Even her parents have given up on her. But then a young woman with a powerful will and harsh ideas comes into her life and her home and recognizes that little Helen needs to be inspired and disciplined, not pitied.
The familiarity of the story makes the current Manatee Players production all the more impressive. Even if you know the ending, the characters and most of the plot developments, this staging still transports you and shakes your emotions.
The quality of the acting is one big reason. Manatee Players regular Amy Woerner, who was so good in the title role in "Agnes of God," brings Annie Sullivan to life in a rich and complex way. In her first scene, she makes Annie seem unsure and tentative, as a woman of her age who's setting out into the world for the first time would be. Within a few scenes, she's standing up to Helen's ill-tempered father, whose own wife refers to as "Captain." Woerner's believable the whole way through and never loses her sense of youth, even when her situation forces her to be blunt and beligerant. Giana Bisceglia and Jacqueline Galvano alternate in the role of Helen. On Thursday, Galvano delivered an impressive performance with some great physical work, It was very easy to believe that she was deaf and blind. In fact, it was hard not to believe that.
One of the plays most interesting dynamics comes in the relationship between Capt. Keller (Mark Shoemaker) and his wife, Kate (Carrie McQueen). Capt. Keller is blustery, overbearing and unswervingly demanding. Kate so subtly and sweetly gets him to do what she wants that he doesn't realize he's being manipulated.
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Both Shoemaker and McQueen give rich performances. Shoemaker lets the captain's good heart show through his nearly constant anger, and Kate's strength is never far below the surface of her McQueen's tender characterization.
It's not all about the acting, of course. Ralph Nurmela's set -- the interior and exterior of the Keller home, all in the confined stage area of the Bradenton Kiwanis Theater -- is one of the most complex and more attractive that space has ever had. Pam Wiley's direction is well-paced and imaginative, and makes great use of that set.
And, of course, William Gibson's classic script gets a lot of the credit. Nearly 60 years after he first wrote "The Miracle Worker" for television. Gibson's play and his craracters are still immediate, powerful and poignant.
A brief interruption
On a side note, during the first intermission on Thursday, the audience was asked to leave the theater because of a "technical problem." It turned out someone had accidentally locked the tech booth, and no one who had a key was anywhere around. Company officials had to bring a ladder into the audience area so someone could climb up and essentially slide into the booth through a narrow window.
Ralph Nurmela's set -- the interior and exterior of the Keller home, all in the confined stage area of the Bradenton Kiwanis Theater -- is one of the most complex and attractive created for the venue.
Details: Dec. 3-20, Bradenton Kiwanis Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave, W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26. Information: 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.