This Spring, Groton’s theater program presented “The Miracle Worker,” a timeless production which captures Helen Keller (1880-1968) in her youth, and emphasizes a pivotal moment in her life: the introduction of the patient and unyielding Annie Sullivan as her teacher. Keller once stated herself: “the most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me.”
Born in Alabama, Keller is believed to have contracted scarlet fever when she was just over a year old, leaving her deaf and blind. Sullivan arrived at the Keller home, and took up the task of teaching seven-year-old Keller braille and hand signals for communication. Though the young girl initially attempted to resist the endeavors of her teacher, Sullivan quickly engaged her mind and was extremely successful in helping Keller through lessons tailored specifically to her. Keller went on to become an American icon, admired for her resilience, and through many years she remained very close friends with her beloved teacher.
As for any theater production, settling into one’s character can be a long and tedious process, but rewarding as well. Claudette Ramos ’16, who portrayed Viney, recalls: “I found it difficult, because my character was so unlike me in both age and personality,” but this didn’t hinder her. Claudette “enjoyed playing the character because [she] got to explore what [she] was capable of in terms of acting.” For Elizabeth Dickson ’15, who took on the role of Annie Sullivan, it was at first challenging to “find the balance between a stubborn exterior and still showing emotion.”
The “dinner scene,” as it is known, seems to strike those who attend any production of the play as particularly powerful. Groton’s production seems to have had the same effect on its audience. Helen, accustomed to having her way and fighting back with fiery resistance when disciplined, moves nonchalantly around the table helping herself to the contents of the diner
s’ plates. Annie Sullivan is the only block to her full circle around the table, and refuses to yield to such unacceptable behavior.
Despite Helen’s protests, Annie holds on with a determination to change Helen’s life for the better. “The audience could really feel Annie’s frustration without the need for words,” comments Varsha Harish ’16. “It can’t be expressed how amazing [the scene] was for the characters of Annie and Helen (played by Katie Slavik ’15),” adds Claudette Ramos ’16.
Though most actors form a special bond with productions they have participated in, some enter into their first rehearsal with one already solidified. For cast member Elizabeth Dickson ’15, “The Miracle Worker” has strong ties to memories of her grandmother, with whom Elizabeth clearly remembers renting and watching a movie version of the play. Though her grandmother passed away this summer, Elizabeth still holds their memory and “The Miracle Worker” dear. This special connection deeply influenced Elizabeth this spring, as she “really wanted to do the role and play justice because it means so much to [her].”
“The Miracle Worker” has dazzled audiences of all ages for years, especially recently because of the Broadway production that debuted a few years ago at The Circle in the Square Theater, with Abigail Breslin starring as Helen. Perhaps the success of the play can be attributed to the uplifting spirit of Helen Keller’s famous story. It does not simply skim over the challenges faced by a frustrated girl, unable to communicate efficiently with those around her. In addition, Annie Sullivan’s bold and steadfast nature as a teacher seems to strike audience members as particularly unforgettable and inspiring. The cast enjoyed seeing the play come together in ways they never imagined, and the resulting show was thoroughly praised by the audience. We look forward to this Fall, when Groton will present its next production: “Twelve Angry Jurors.”