7 rectangular tables. 7 plastic chairs. Some potted plants. 7 microphones and a large acoustically challenged space (THEATRE 79) normally home to the New York Theatre Workshop greet you as you await the 7 actors (male and female) that will portray Helen Keller in this bizarre concoction conceived by Jack Cummings III for The Transport Group - THREE DAYS TO SEE - “a devised exploration of Helen Keller - in her own words” that literally runs through August 16th.
7 is usually considered to be a lucky number. Not this time. Director Jack Cummings III in an attempt to make Helen Keller’s life more interesting than it already is has his troupe of Helen Kellers running hither and yon, moving the tables and sometimes throwing the chairs (and food and forks) while quoting from the many published works and lectures of this incredible woman who overcame blindness and deafness to lead an incredibly fulfilled life – learning to master Braille and sign language, learning to speak and to listen to others speak by reading their lips with her hands. If only this was brought to light it may have helped clarify the production.
As is it, it’s a jumble. The importance of Helen Keller’s words and thoughts are undermined by all the movement and pre-recorded music. It’s a battle with the soundtrack that all but derails this concept.
The actors quickly pace back and forth asking questions or spewing thoughts; there is a prolonged segment that brings back The Miracle Worker material when Annie Sullivan got Helen to recognize the word “water” and learned to eat properly as they battle with each other (each actor taking turns at being Helen) to the strains of, I think, Gene Krupa’s mastery of the drums in the swing version of Sing! Sing! Sing! This garnered much applause as the actors clean up the mess of thrown food and water as thoughts continue.
This after a manic opening of tasteless Helen Keller jokes using the aforementioned microphones. They are then removed. The remainder of the too long show (almost two hours without intermission) is a repetition of Ms. Keller’s thoughts on various subjects such as Gone With the Wind, death, racism, socialism, vaudeville, Chaplain, censorship, Sam Clemens and Alexander Graham Bell all at odds with the intrusive musical score. Name That Tune came to mind.
It doesn’t help that some voices are ill-suited to project in the echo chamber of a stage. The result appears to be a collegiate exercise of theatrical excess - to be different for the sake of being different. The words and thoughts and feelings of the intelligent and gifted Ms. Keller suffer. Helen Keller “cultivated the art of silence” and that is nowhere in evidence in this production.
The most interesting aspect – although it too is too long – are the thoughts from Helen Keller about what she would do if she had three days to see. Nice.
It seems to be staged for “in the round” although it’s presented in proscenium. In the past I have admired Transport Group. Its choices and its direction. The success of THREE DAYS TO SEE remains to be seen.
The energetic actors portraying Helen Keller (and sometimes others) are Ito Aghayere, Patrick Boll, Marc delaCruz, Theresa McCarthy, Chinaza Uche, Barbara Walsh and Zoe Wilson.
Sound design: Walter Trarbach Musical Staging: Scott Rink Dramaturg: Kristina Williams
Photos: Carol Rosegg
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