Helen Keller, young and headstrong; blind and mute; frustrated and unable to express her frustration, is nobody’s idea of a dream student. But teacher Annie Sullivan, herself with impaired vision, patiently persists through emotional, often violent confrontations with Helen. The Miracle Worker by William Gibson — which opens tonight at Spotlight Theatre in Swarthmore — tells the story of Helen and Annie at pivotal moments in their mutual education. The Broadway classic became a movie, beloved of generations of audiences.
Director Jessica Stinson is no exception. She has great love for the play, for this cast, and for theater writ large. Like many who animate and produce theater today, she has a regular job that demands her attention, as CEO of Century Global Executive Search in Philadelphia. But there’s work, and then there’s a calling.
“Theater saved my life. I was 30 years old, and I realized I wanted to move people.” Stinson got involved with Hedgerow Theatre, directing children’s productions and stage managing mainstage productions and developing her stagecraft. “I’ve learned what’s effective, and with Spotlight, I’m with people who have a lot of gifts and tools for communicating with audiences.” In Miracle Worker, for instance, the lighting and set design reinforce a sense of isolation and sterility. Act three brings color and depth to characters as they blossom.
Kayla Teplica of West Chester makes her acting debut as young Helen, the wild child whose struggles to communicate bewilder those around her. Emily West of Schwenksville is Annie Sullivan, who is part wrangler, part soothsayer, part saint.
“The story is paramount,” Stinson says of this production, which is both intensely emotional and universal in its celebration of humanity. A special performance on Sunday, December 18, will be staged for students in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, where Strath Haven middle-schoolers are reading The Miracle Worker this year.
Miracle Worker opens tonight, December 2, and runs through December 17, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and a Sunday, December 11, matinee at 2 p.m. Stinson invites Spotlight fans and supporters to join members of the company at a December 10 reception and silent auction, preceding that evening’s performance. The party begins at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday the 10th; curtain that night only is at 7 p.m. The theatre is downstairs at Swarthmore United Methodist Church, 129 Park Avenue.
More information on the play, the company and tickets is at spotlighttheatrepa.org.