Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, the multiple-award-winning originators of the roles of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, are pretty tough acts to follow, but Tara Battani and Danielle Soibelman do a nice job in the revival of William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker now playing at Actors Co-op in Hollywood.
Battani certainly captures Annie’s brassiness, roaring onstage and never letting up for two and a half hours. I was afraid she’d be too much for the more tender scenes with the child, but she makes it work. The role of Helen is also a challenge—it’s become so iconic that audiences will watch carefully for any sign of overacting or pathos—but Soibelman gives an affecting performance. Kudos must also be given to director Thom Babbes, who obviously worked well with his actors.
The dramatic climax, when Annie finally breaks through to Helen, is justifiably one of the most moving scenes in film history, but how does it play in cynical Hollywood in 2013? Surveying the audience on Friday night, I saw a lot of eye-wiping. And yes—the lengthy, violent dining room food fight is here, spectacularly choreographed and performed to a tee.
Among the other cast members, Bruce Ladd provides appropriate bluster as Helen’s domineering father, the oh-so-Southern Captain Keller, and Catherine Gray is sympathetic as his young wife Kate, who has indulged Helen’s every whim. Tony Christopher does a nice job as James, Helen’s neglected half-brother, who serves as the voice of reason in the household even when others don’t want to hear it.
Fritz Davis and James Arnold Taylor’s sound design is atmospheric and multilayered, and Cooper Babbes’ incidental music is effective. As in the Co-op’s 2011 revival of To Kill a Mockingbird, it makes for a cinematic experience.
Shon LeBlanc’s costuming is evocative, as is Mark Svastic’s multi-room set—but the latter is too much for the size of the theater. It felt a bit cramped and busy, and I wasn’t able to see the faces of Battani and Soibelman when they were sitting on the floor (where most of the dramatic scenes take place).
That aside, it’s an earnest production and worth attending for the performances of the two leads.
The Miracle Worker plays Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through May 19 at Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood. Reservations can be made here or by calling (323) 462-8460, ext. 300.
Photo by Lindsay Schnebly