The Unbearable Banishment: They're going to need a miracle

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

They're going to need a miracle

The Broadway revival of The Miracle Worker that’s set to open next week would be a good night out if the show hadn't been staged so poorly.

The cast is good and occasionally achieves greatness. Abigail Breslin gives a controlled performance as Helen Keller that could have gone way off the rails. I felt a genuine thrill in the climatic scene where she discovers language. Initially, I thought that Alison Pill was too young to play Annie Sullivan but she was fine, as were Matthew Modine and Jennifer Morrison.

But the staging is a mess. It’s at Circle in the Square and the seating is in the round. This is a play that begs for a traditional theater. The blocking is so poor that I found myself starring at the actor’s backs about 60% of the time. I’ve seen plays at Circle in the Square before, including the 6-hour Norman Conquests, which was masterful, so I know it can be done.

The set changes are accomplished by raising and lowering furniture pieces from the ceiling. Part of the set design includes door frames (with closed doors) that block the view for many patrons. The actors were rooted on their marks, so if you happen to be staring at the sides of their heads during a scene, too bad for you.

It pains me to see actors work so hard only to have their efforts undermined by the production itself.

Ah, well. That’s show biz. NEXT!



Anonymous daisyfae said...

from your description of the staging, it brought to mind a horrible old joke... how her parents punished her by moving around the furniture.

yeah. i'm going to hell....

February 23, 2010 at 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Annie Sullivan was very young when she started teaching Helen. She was 21 or 22. Helen's father actually objected to her as a possible teacher on the grounds he thought she was too young.

The trouble is that older females have always played Sullivan, leaving us with the impression that she was approaching middle age/spinster territory when in reality this wasn't true.

February 23, 2010 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Daisy: That's funny! See you in hell. (We'll finally meet.)

Annie: In the play, they say that Sullivan is 20 years old. Keller's father (Matthew Modine) is outraged when she shows up because she's so young and inexperienced. I think it makes for a more compelling storyline.

February 23, 2010 at 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How was Abigail Breslin?

February 24, 2010 at 2:43 AM  
Anonymous nursemyra said...

sorry, that last comment was me. I was so flummoxed by my verification word (fucksal) that I forgot to sign in

February 24, 2010 at 2:45 AM  
Anonymous sid said...

I love Annie Girl's comment. I love that your readers can teach me something.

February 24, 2010 at 4:43 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Nurse M: She was great. And as I stated, it's a role that can easily be overplayed but she did a nice, subtle job. That is, what I could see of her, which wasn't a whole lot.

Sid: You should read her blog. It's a pretty good show.

February 24, 2010 at 7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

UB, I haven't seen the play in a while. Helen and Annie were standard fare in the sixth grade reading curriculum when I taught middle school.

Sullivan had taught but never to a student who was deaf, blind and mute. I think there was only one other example of a student like Helen, and that's who Annie modeled her "curriculum" for Helen on. I can't remember the girl's name - Laura something.

Helen's father was very old school south, and he and Annie clashed.

Thanks for the compliment.

February 24, 2010 at 10:30 PM  

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