By Khaleel Herbert
William Gibson’s opening night of his play, “The Miracle Worker,” was Oct. 19, 1959. The play, based on Helen Keller’s autobiography “The Story of My Life,” detailed Anne Sullivan’s first teaching sessions with Helen Keller. Since its premiere, the play has been reincarnated into various productions and film adaptations.
Almost 60 years later Peter J. Hughes, a director, spiritual teacher and coach has put a visually psychological spin on his adaption of Gibson’s classic play–a set designed like a maze with stairs going in various directions mirroring the art of M.C. Escher.
“Having been the family member of someone who was visually impaired and blind, I’m very sensitive to the journey the family takes to navigate their world to accommodate that,” Hughes said, commenting on his sister who was blind, but regained her sight. “If I had to paint what that journey looks like, it would be an Escher painting.”
An elaborate labyrinth is also painted on the center of the stage.
“The labyrinth is a symbol of Anne’s journey, as well as the Keller family’s, to reach Helen’s mind and unlock her potential. Before this can be achieved Anne, and by proxy the Keller Family, must change their beliefs about Helen and what she is capable of,” Hughes said. “When we reach the miracle moment in the show, Anne and the family have reached the center of their mental and emotional labyrinth, and finding Helen waiting for them there, are able to connect with and communicate with Helen.
“In this moment, Helen’s world, Anne’s world and the world of the Keller Family flies wide open,” Hughes added. “And the world, in general, is introduced to one of the most brilliant minds of our time.”
“To me, the labyrinth is the most important part of the set as far as Helen’s character development goes. I think it shows both how Anne Sullivan is struggling to find her way out,” Hannah Ford, who plays Helen, said. “Having the labyrinth drawn across the stage has been extremely helpful to me, the actor, for understanding and trying to experience what Helen experienced when the miracle occurred and she, because of her teacher and her own willpower, finally emerges into the world to become one of the most intelligent and influential minds in history.
“Of all the characters, Helen spends the most time walking, running and crawling around on the set,” Ford added. “As she is deprived of sight, sound, and speech and therefore has no ‘lines,’ Helen has to express herself primarily through touch.”
Larissa Fleming, who plays Martha, described the atmosphere of the set.
“Peter communicated with us that the show is divided into a few different realms of reality and Helen’s and Anne’s perceptions. There are multiple dimensions and Escher’s paintings often depict a multitude of dimensions,” Fleming said. “I personally love our concept. It’s subtle, but fresh. I hope the spectacle is as exciting to the audience as it has been for the production team, cast and crew.”
“The Miracle Worker” is currently playing weekends at the John Hand Theater in Lowry through Dec. 23. To purchase tickets, visit: www.firehousetheatercompany.com or call (303)562-3232.