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'THE MIRACLE WORKER' | Review Salem production moves, captivates

Monday, January 20, 2003

SALEM -- Although the story of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, has been told many times in many ways, on Friday night at Salem Community Theater, it became a realistic, heart-warming drama that captivated and moved those in attendance.
William Gibson's play, "The Miracle Worker," proved to be both gripping and inspiring as it focused on the battle between a feisty young girl who is disabled and her dedicated, determined teacher.
Provides insight
While the story is primarily based on Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, it also provides an insight into the feelings and frustrations of the family members who are adversely affected by each crisis in Helen's life.
Although only 11 years of age, Kelsey Crismon, gives a stunning performance as Helen Keller who is left sightless, mute and deaf after a childhood illness. Hopeless and helpless, and unable to communicate with anyone, she gives vent to her anger by staging uncontrollable tantrums that terrify her family.
In a desperate effort to control the child, the family hires Annie Sullivan to be her companion. In the role of the patient but demanding teacher, Jeanne Kelly plays her part with an amazing intensity that makes the battle of the wills even more realistic.
Riveting moments
Among the highlights of the play is an exhausting struggle for discipline that takes place between the two at the breakfast table. Also impressive is an intense scene at a water pump where the struggle between teacher and child leads to an emotional triumph for Sullivan as Helen finally understands that words have meaning.
Outstanding as the distraught father and stepmother are Madeline Shivers as Kate Keller and C. Richard Haldi as the brash Captain Keller, whose love for and inability to help the youngster makes it difficult for them to maintain a semblance of a normal family life. The strong supporting cast includes Roger Gaskins as the bitter, brow-beaten son, Jimmy, who must also put up with the chaotic moments created by the uncontrollable Helen.
They are supported in their efforts by Julie Benner as the outspoken Aunt Ev and Deneen Green as their family cook, Viney.
Other cast members contributing to the success of the production are Autumn Smith, Joe Eritz, Peter Eritz, Russell Dillon, Shane Grim, Tina Grim, Carly Ellis, Leslie Ellis, Shannon Stewart, Lloyd Williams, Jessie Dillon, Maribeth Hissom, Kristina Cain, Tippy Crismon and Danielle Kruegeld.
Interesting setting
The action takes place in a multilevel setting that leaves much to the imagination but serves as everything from a homey dining room, upstairs bedroom and a train station to a "doll house," where Annie's determined efforts finally have a sobering effect on Helen.
This human drama is directed with deep affection by J.E. Ballantyne, who instead of seeking pity for those with disabilities, makes it apparent that love and compassion can overcome most obstacles.
The only fault to be found with this production are several distracting, unnecessary flashbacks that are well-acted but add little to the impressive drama.