Everybody knows about the story of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller, and how the teacher found a way to reach a girl who could not hear or see, opening the door for a severely disabled woman to excel as a great member of American society.

That’s really about all I knew though, as I’d never had the chance to see or read “The Miracle Worker”, at least until Sunday when I visited the “Great Escape Stage Company” at their new space on Michigan Avenue in Marshall.

The play is a snapshot of Keller’s awakening at the age of seven at her family home in Alabama.  In desperation, her parents hire a “half-blind Yankee schoolgirl” named Anne Sullivan.

I loved this show.  I loved the story.  I loved the new space.  But mostly, I loved the actors in this cast.  They were very good from top to bottom.

Max Hardy showed a vast range of emotion as Captain Keller, the traditional southern gentleman, and father of a troubled girl and head of a troubled family.  Though rough and set-in-his ways, the Captain’s love for family force him outside of his comfort zone.

But this show was about Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller, and the two young women who played them were nothing short of brilliant.  Rachel Doane, 17, never broke character, and let us see the spark behind those broken eyes.  She was an impish brat one second, and a tortured and caged animal the next.  As she transitioned from sweet girl one second to a tantrum-throwing  monster the next, the audience was on the edge of the chair wondering what might happen.  Somehow, we believed Doane’s character was actually blind-- no small task for a young actor with no glasses or spoken words to hide behind, and working 5 feet away from the audience.

The star of the show was Marshall High School grad Sarah Stiner.  As the story unfolds, we learn about her own tortured childhood and struggle with blindness—things that helped shape her into a very different person than the average young woman in the 1880.   She plays a quirky and likeable young teacher, insecure but determined.   That character up against the stoic southern father really makes the play interesting.  Steiner (and Doane’s) little facial expressions are priceless.  I’m not sure they would be noticed much in a big theater, but those experessions were not lost on the Great Escape Audience.

This was the first performance at Great Escape, since moving at the first of the year from their first location at the corner of Michigan and Eagle.   The new space, a few blocks east, has more space, and is more comfortable.  It gives the actors, directors and set designers a lot of options.  The set took up half of the theater space, and was a layout of the Keller family home, built on several levels with no walls.  For the most part, it worked very well.   Oh, it was a little noisy, patrons on the edges had to look through set pieces to see the drama on the opposite side of the room, and I thought the actors might trip and die getting on and off in the dark.  That was an ironic thing for a play about a blind person.

The show moved along at a good pace, and held the audience, in spite of two intermissions and a curtain call that felt like a game of Monopoly.

But what a great start for the new space at the Great Escape Stage Company.  Go this weekend, before it’s gone.  This Sunday, there will be American Sign Language interpreters at the performance for audience members who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Great Escape Stage Company
  • 110 E. Michigan Avenue, Marshall Michigan
  • Thursday   7/27/17 7:00 pm
  • Friday       7/28/17 7:00 pm
  • Saturday   7/29/17 7:00 pm
  • Sunday     7/30/17 2:00 pm
  • Tickets are available by calling the box office at (269) 781-2700.
Great Escape Stage-Randy Lake talks to the audience-Photo Tim Collins-TSM
Great Escape Stage-Randy Lake talks to the audience-Photo Tim Collins-TSM

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