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The Miracle Worker Reviews: Uneven, Poorly Staged, Still Compelling

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The first Broadway revival of William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker,” which debuted half a century ago, has been received tepidly by many critics, who note that while the story itself remains compelling — how Helen Keller, a deaf and blind child who became a leading figure of the twentieth century, was taught by a young woman named Anne Sullivan — it is a familiar one, given an uneven production. All the critics say that staging it in theater-in-the-round simply doesn’t work.

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter
Although this Broadway revival at Circle in the Square — the first, strangely enough, in the 50 years since the landmark original — features uneven performances and problematic staging, it nonetheless manages to touch the heart. Indeed, if anyone can remain unmoved during the famous climactic water-pump scene, they’re made of stern stuff, indeed.
The show is best positioned for Broadway success as an alternative for families who might want to expose their children to something a little more substantive and educational than “Mary Poppins” or “Wicked.”

Ben Brantley, New York Times: … the sadly pedestrian new production of William Gibson’s 1959 biographical drama is by far most effective when it is wordless…. Ms. Whoriskey’s production never finds its focus. Rather than pulling us into a you-are-there intimacy with its two central characters, it keeps pushing us away, opting for a panoramic view that flatters no one.

Eric Haagenson, Backstage
I’ve never been sure if William Gibson wrote a great play or merely an expert telling of a great story. After seeing the show’s first Broadway revival, I’m still not sure, but there’s one thing I’d bet good money on: You should never stage “The Miracle Worker” in the round.

John Simon, Bloomberg News: Managing to be both demonic and touching, Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) gives a tremendous performance as Helen Keller in the first Broadway revival of “The Miracle Worker.”
And while Alison Pill looks and behaves convincingly as her stubborn teacher Annie, she lacks the pungent Irishness and variety that Anne Bancroft brought to William Gibson’s 1959 play and subsequent movie.
Regrettably, Circle in the Square Theatre, where the audience surrounds the sunken stage on all sides, proves an inhospitable venue. We never get a clear sense of simultaneous goings-on in two houses and the space between. Worse, the actors are either too far away or too close, sometimes even blocked from view by one another.

Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
Modern audiences are far less likely to be seduced by Gibson’s earnest, hokey dialogue or, given the movie’s enduring popularity, surprised by the particulars of Helen’s and Annie’s struggles. And Kate Whoriskey directs the new production, which opened Wednesday, with a literal-minded reverence that only emphasizes its banal and dated qualities.

Michael Kushwara, Associated Press: The battle to illuminate the mind and heart of Helen Keller remains as compelling as ever, even if the first Broadway revival of William Gibson’s ”The Miracle Worker” suffers from inhospitable surroundings and a supporting cast forced to bellow its way through much of the dialogue.

Twitterers: Following Jonathan Mandell at New York Theater

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