Nobody expects the Footlight Players to work miracles. They’re a community theater group with actors and crew of all ages and abilities. Their plays have to be well-known enough to fill a certain number of seats, and most, if not all, of the company members have school or day jobs that distract from preparing for a show.
So it’s a pleasant surprise when a production as capably directed, gripping, and emotionally effective as The Miracle Worker comes along. This stage classic by William Gibson tells the story of a young Helen Keller (played by Eily Mixson), the deaf and blind kid who went on to become an important author and political activist. But to develop from a spoiled shut-in to a college-educated adult, she needs a supernanny.
This game governess is Annie Sullivan (Lara Allred), a 20-year-old Irishwoman haunted by her own long bout of blindness and her dead brother Jimmie (Abby LeRoy). She appreciates Helen’s plight, but she’s also tough enough to bitch slap the blind girl if necessary. And it often is — Helen’s a handful, throwing tantrums when she doesn’t get her own way. It doesn’t help that she’s being indulged by her parents Arthur (David Moon) and Kate (Valarie Kobrovsky). Annie’s challenge is to figure out how to make Helen understand that words relate to the objects they describe — the key to a whole world of comprehension and connection with other people.
The Miracle Worker succeeds because of the commitment of its two leads. Sixth grader Mixson, the director’s daughter, is convincing as the frustrated Helen in her theater debut. Imagine how hard it is to act blind and take a pitcher of water in the face without flinching, and you’ll have a small idea of the girl’s talent. Allred puts across a feisty, quaintly Irish personality with a natural performance that often seems effortless.
Director Mark Mixson is the real miracle worker here, tugging just the right number of heartstrings without getting maudlin. Funny and touching in equal measure, The Miracle Worker provides a full sensory experience.