The only miracle at the Circle in the Square, where the newest of the classic old revivals is being presented, is that the family friendly “The Miracle Worker” penned by William Gibson some 50 years ago still works on some level.
Particularly that of the performances of Matthew Modine as Captain Keller, Helen’s pompous and put upon father and that of the deaf and blind Helen herself Abigail Breslin and her resentful half brother James – Tobias Segal. Despite Alison Pill’s valiant portrayal of Annie Sullivan I just didn’t feel connected with her cold performance which is in part the fault of director Kate Whoriskey and the theatre itself. Or the shadow of Anne Bancroft, who created the role, lurking about.
Circle in the Square presents its plays in the round. For “The Norman Conquests” it worked like a charm. Unfortunately “The Miracle Worker” should have been housed elsewhere. Here it comes across as a three ring circus with a Raymour and Flanigan furniture showroom floating above that is raised and lowered on wires. I feared that a wire would break and come crashing down on one of the cast members. Distracting, to say the least.
With its multi-patterned, three level floor depicting the outside garden of the Keller household where the famous water pump (here emotionally watered down) scene takes place, the dining room where much of a mess with the throwing of food and plates and spoons is created and Annie Sullivan’s living quarters where she painstakingly and persistently tries to connect with the young Helen by teaching her to realize that what is being signed in the palm of her hand are words that are meaningful things – too much is going on at times and we lose the intimacy that should be a result of playing in such close quarters. It is so badly staged that oft times you miss the dialogue or are craning your neck to see between open door frames.
Due to mixed reviews the producers were thinking about posting a closing notice but didn’t, hoping that “word of mouth” would catch their intended audience – families. “The Miracle Worker” is after all a family show that is truly inspirational. But “word of mouth” has changed to “word of web” (reaching more people faster) and one can only hope that all the chat rooms and theater bloggers find this production more compelling than I did. And that “family priced seating” ensues, enabling families to see the pricey show.
www.miracleworkeronbroadway.com Photo: Joan Marcus