REVIEW Uninhibited emotion of the cast is highlight of 'The Miracle Worker'
Two strong-willed females collide in a wordless yet powerful scene.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
WARREN -- If there's anything to admire about Summer Stock 27's production of "The Miracle Worker" at Kent State University Trumbull Campus, it's the beauty of being uninhibited.
That word certainly describes Annie Sullivan, the young, partially blind woman who moved from progressive Boston to chivalrous Alabama in the late 19th century to teach language to deaf, blind and mute Helen Keller. Robbed of her sight and hearing after a bout with meningitis, Keller was a 6-year-old wild child whose family was ready to institutionalize her until Sullivan came along. They had nearly given up on Helen. Headstrong, outspoken Annie Sullivan didn't, although this play implies that she, too, had her doubts.
Because of Sullivan, Helen Keller became a college graduate, author, world traveler, advocate of the disabled and a famous example of someone who overcame obstacles.
Uninhibited also describes the best performances of the show by some of the youngest members of the cast on Friday, which was opening night. The community-wide Summer Stock program, of which Kent Trumbull is fiscal agent, has been training young actors for 27 years.
Hilary Hapgood, a seventh-grader from Warren, looks younger than she is, which is to her benefit in her role as Helen. Hers is an essentially nonspeaking part but hardly easy, since she must rely on body language to convey Helen's needs.
Hapgood, as directed by Heather Fenstermaker, seems to understand Helen's predicament as a smart girl who cannot communicate and whose family has indulged her instead of disciplining her. The tantrums she throws as Helen are convincing, as are the grunts and squeaks that were Helen's form of expression before Annie Sullivan taught her sign language. The best part is watching Hapgood's face light up when Helen experiences moments of pleasure, such as when she clutches a beloved doll.
Danielle Marie Lloyd's passionate portrayal of Sullivan peaks in a scene during the first act, when she clears the Kellers' dining room to teach Helen a lesson in table manners. Not a word is spoken for several minutes as Helen flings food in Sullivan's face and Sullivan persists in making the unruly child eat with a fork.
Scenes in which Sullivan has flashbacks to her years in an institution are confusing and detract from the story.
Jack Eilber as Captain Keller, Helen's father, and Brent Whetstone as James, her older half brother, are at times merely delivering their lines. During those moments when their characters' emotions boil over, however, Eilber and Whetstone become uninhibited and make their disagreements sound real.
Brianne Kochunas remains on even keel as Kate Keller, Helen's loving mother. Micky Burnsworth is a good role model for aspiring character actors, as she gives Aunt Ev a refined, intelligent air. Jessica Black affects the most convincing Southern accent of everyone as Viney, the housekeeper.
The Kent Trumbull tradition of constructing good-looking, functional sets continues, with the crew setting scenes inside the Keller's two-story house, garden house, yard and more.