The Miracle Worker at Compass Rose Studio Theater

A dramatic masterpiece takes the stage at Compass Rose Studio Theater. The Miracle Worker tells the inspiring true story of Helen Keller’s discovery of language. Focusing around the tutor that comes from Boston to teach her, every moment that unfolds on the stage is spellbinding. The moments of fighting, the intense levels of tension, and the physical struggles between Annie and Helen are compelling and moving. The play moves quickly and in just two short hours you are mesmerized by what you are seeing.

Colleen Marie Arnold (Annie Sullivan) and Annalie Ellis) (Helen Keller). Photo courtesy of Compass Rose Studio Theater.

Set in the 1880s at the Keller home in Alabama, Director Lucinda Merry-Browne crafts a world for her characters, focusing largely on the dialect and vernacular of the time period and location. Merry-Browne’s work is well displayed as all of the characters seem to master this proper southern sound in their words – particularly strong in Kate (Rebecca Dreyfuss) and Captain Keller (Chris Briante.) The direction given to these actors is superb. The sheer physical demands of the show are nothing short of taxing, especially between Annie (Colleen Marie Arnold) and Helen (Annalie Ellis) but they are exhilarating and breathtaking. And the pacing is perfect, the natural flow from one moment to the next is sublime – and before you know it -two hours have gone and the show has drawn to a close. A superior dramatic instance not to be missed.

The tension that is strung throughout the show burns with extraordinary brightness –  slicing through each scene sharper than a knife. It is displayed most frequently between Captain Keller (Chris Briante) and his wife Kate (Rebecca Dreyfuss.) Briante and Dreyfuss are at constant vocals odds with each other, but their most profound moments occur in their silent moments – the way the grief and strain of raising such a child washes over their faces, and through their bodies. The anguish and uncertainty is painted so vividly in their expressions  – begging for the audience to empathize with their plight. Briante is the boisterous harsh voice of hazy reason and Dreyfuss plays a brilliant foil to this with her demure but firm need to nurture her child. Her expressions of concern are heartbreaking – the years of stressing over a sick child written so clearly upon her face. They provide phenomenal performances throughout the play.

The most picturesque moment in the show comes when Annie (Colleen Marie Arnold) first meets Helen (Annalie Ellis.) It almost happens in slow motion – Ellis groping to feel Arnold’s face while Arnold sits patiently with a nervous but excited light in her eyes. It is a stunning moment to behold and makes every physical struggle between them that much more profound. These two young ladies work together to create staged perfection. Their physical struggles are brutal as Arnold tries to tame Ellis into submission; teaching her wrong from right, teaching her obedience. Their struggle in the dining room is frantic – tiresome and so engaging that you won’t be able to look away as Arnold struggles to lift Ellis and sit her down to eat while Ellis bites, kicks, and scrambles to escape her, crawling under the table, over top of it and flinging her mashed potatoes all across the room.

The cast of 'The Miracle Worker' and Director Lucinda Merry-Browne. Photo courtesy of Compass Rose Studio Theater.

Annalie Ellis’ performance as Helen Keller is sensational. Ellis moves with uncertainty, fully embodying the notion of being blind and deaf. Her eyes stare vacantly ahead of her and her facial expressions belay everything. Her tantrums are extreme, slamming her fists and feet against the walls and floor, her body shaking with the anger of a small child who can’t have her way. When she interacts with Annie (Arnold) she is truly the lost child that the tutor believes her to be. Their “finger game” of using sign language to spell words is beautiful. The struggle that Arnold faces trying to make her understand, Ellis simply mimicking what is shown to her – building and building with each instance. It is astonishing and amazing as it builds to its peak and all falls into place.

This is a profound drama with a well-directed talented group of actors that is not to be missed this season.

Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission.

The Miracle Worker plays through March 11, 2012, at Compass Rose Studio Theater – 1011 Bay Ridge Avenue, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call (410) 980-6662, or purchase them online.