Most of us remember "The Miracle Worker" from the 1962 movie version, which you can still see on late night TV. It's the story of Helen Keller, a deaf and blind girl living in the 1800s, and the story of the determined teacher who brought Helen into contact with the world.
The play, which predates the movie, has faded in recent decades. But if you only know the movie, you are in for a treat, because the three-act play is more intimate and more detailed, while the story of Keller's transformation from wild child into language-using girl remains timeless.
It isn't an easy transition. Initially, Keller's devoted parents are not certain that a teacher is what their unspeaking, housebound daughter needs.
Father: Now how does Miss Sullivan propose to teach a deaf, blind pupil who won't even let her touch her?
Mother: I don't know.
Father: The fact is today she scuttled any chance she ever had of getting along with the child. Now if you can see any point or purpose to having her stay on here longer, it's more than…
Mother: What do you want me to do.
Father: I want you to give her notice.
But the gutsy teacher tells the parents THEY are part of the problem.
Sullivan: Mrs. Keller, I don't think Helen's worst handicap is her deafness or blindness. I think it's your love, and pity.
Father: Now what does that mean?
Sullivan: All of you here are so sorry for her, you've kept her like a pet. Why even a dog, you housebreak. It's no wonder she won't let me anywhere near her.
The play is a visceral experience on stage, because the physical reality of Helen's tantrums is more tangible in the flesh. This play could have gone flat if it was merely pious. Instead, this handsomely-mounted production by the Sacramento Theatre Company brings out sincerity in the climactic scenes. As a result, this venerable classic comes across in a fresh and convincing way.
The Sacramento Theatre Company's production of "The Miracle Worker" continues through October 28th.
NPR interview with playwright William Gibson, author of "Miracle Worker":