The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title The Miracle Worker
Organization Sutter Street Theatre
Date(s) of show February 8 - March 9, 2014
Reviewer Gerry Camp

Many readers will know the story of William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker” from its 1962 Academy Award film. Knowing that the play is about the child Helen Keller, blind and deaf from infancy, and the remarkable teacher who gave her the world is an advantage in attending Sutter Street Theatre’s brilliant production as it allows one to focus on the many details director Allen Schmeltz has brought to his vision of this story.


The “Miracle Worker” of the title is Annie Sullivan, a 20-year-old hired by Helen’s parents to teach Helen. Played with convincing fervor by Heather Warren, Annie, blind in her own childhood, takes control of Helen and the Keller household immediately upon her arrival. Her goal becomes to teach Helen language using a sign-language alphabet spelling words into Helen’s palm. She discovers that first she must teach the semi-wild Helen, over-indulged by her family and their servants, to behave as a human being. Eventually deciding she can only do that if she has complete control of Helen, she convinces the family to let her move with the child to an unused summer house for two weeks.


At the end of this time Annie has taught Helen how to behave and how to spell many words, but Helen has still not made the connection between the words spelled and the things the spellings name. The Kellers insist on taking Helen back to the house, and in a “welcome home” dinner, quickly begin to undo all of Annie’s progress. Annie drives the family away from the house and Helen’s father determines to dismiss her, an act he in fact cannot bring himself to do.


The part of Helen, certainly among the most difficult roles for a child actor, is played to perfection by thirteen-year-old Camy Rae Wilson, who has been acting for 8 years and has appeared in twenty shows. Crawling and stumbling around the stage with wide open unseeing eyes, fighting with Annie and attacking anything in her way, Camy never lets the audience doubt for a second that she is the blind, deaf child. And when the climax comes when Helen realizes that the water pouring over her hands has a name, the awakening of the child’s brilliant mind appears clearly on her face, and there is probably not a dry eye in the house. This is a performance you will not soon forget.


This difficult play works so well because of the effective multi-level set created by Mike Jimena. The smallness of the stage and the need to represent several rooms allows the audience to feel almost as if they are a part of the drama as it takes place.

The supporting cast is excellent, especially Nathan Rangel as Helen’s father, a Confederate Civil War veteran known, even to his wife, as Captain Keller. He is used to giving orders and is bewildered when Annie takes charge and refuses to obey him.  Mary Comstock plays Helen’s mother with love and tenderness while also conveying her conflicts about what is best for her impaired child.


I must return to the other “miracle worker” at Sutter Street, the director Allen Schmeltz. A play this difficult, with a large cast, multiple playing areas, transitions conveyed by changes in lighting, in addition to creating compelling performances from his two lead actors, would seem an almost insurmountable problem for a director. Schmeltz meets the challenge and brings to Folsom one of the year’s best evenings of theater.

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