by Tom Simpson for OLY ARTS
The classic play about the life of Helen Keller and her faithful educator, Annie Sullivan, is brought to life this month on stage at Olympia High School. “Miracle Worker” is being staged over the first two weekends of February, under the direction of Julliard fellow and Olympia director Kathy Dorgan, who has previously directed work at Olympia Family Theater and other regional theaters.
The Olympia production will be the first time Dorgan has staged the play. “I chose the ‘Miracle Worker’ because it is a show I’ve always wanted to do, but stayed away from because I wasn’t sure I would do Helen Keller’s story justice. But the more I researched Helen and Annie’s stories, the more I knew it was a story my students could tell.”
Helen Keller’s story is one of tragic isolation uplifted by profound hope and connection. At 19 months old, Keller lost all ability to see or hear. Her parents were despondent but determined and attempted various methods of training her.
Finally, a 20 year old teacher — Annie Sullivan — arrived at their household with radically new ideas about intelligence and communication. Annie broke through Helen’s isolation and brought her language and learning. Over time, Keller graduated from Radcliffe College and became a well known educator, speaker and suffragist. She became friends with Mark Twain who called her “one of the most amazing people I have ever met.” Keller authored books and became known as one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians, as well as co-founder of the ACLU.
Keller and Anne Sullivan forged an indelible friendship that lasted their entire lives. Helen was with Annie, holding her hand, when Sullivan died.
“They were strong, independent women in a time when women were not encouraged to be so,” explains Dorgan. “I have lots of strong actresses in my program this year, and it is an opportunity to feature them.”
Three of the leading actresses in this production are Molly Anders as Helen Keller, McKenna Soderberg as Annie Sullivan and Kate Hayes as Helen’s mother, Kate Keller. Dorgan explains their accomplishments: “Molly Anders as Helen, and McKenna Soderberg as Annie Sullivan are fearless, particularly in the scenes where they physically struggle with one another. Kate Hayes brings a different kind of courage… She sends her heart out in every scene and it has moved me to tears more than once.”
The young actresses in the Olympia High School production have set themselves a high bar. The stage version on Broadway became a timeless classic, and in 1963, the film version swept the Academy Awards, garnering Best Actress (Anne Bancroft), Best Supporting Actress (Patty Duke), Best Director (Arthur Penn), Best Costume Design (Ruth Morley) and Best Adapted Screenplay (William Gibson). Later stage adaptations have also won numerous accolades, including a Broadway production at Circle in the Square that starred Abigail Breslin and Alison Pill in 2010.
“I think the story is timeless rather than timely,” says Dorgan. “What Helen and Annie were able to achieve in their lifetimes, despite enormous obstacles, is a reminder of what we are capable of.”
The Miracle Worker
Olympia High School mainstage
1302 North Street SE, Olympia, WA 98501
7:30 p.m., February 2, 3, 8, 9, 10
$10 adults, student discount available