Whether between a teacher and a student, a mother and a child or a reader and a story, a moment of connection can be nothing short of miraculous. From May 11 to 27, these connections and more will be celebrated as the Chatham Drama Guild presents “The Miracle Worker,” the inspiring story of the young deaf-blind Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. The performances will be made even more special by the connection between the mother and daughter pair on the stage and, in turn, by their personal connection to the characters they are portraying.
“The Miracle Worker” was made famous on both stage (in 1959) and screen (in 1962) with Anne Bancroft in the role of Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller. The mind struggles to imagine the isolation and incomprehension that must have ruled the young Keller's dark and silent world before Sullivan made the hard-won breakthrough immortalized in “The Miracle Worker” as the pair finally find connection by joining the word and the concept of “water.” The scene is unforgettable.
Actress Rebecca Lach (Annie Sullivan) and her daughter Sage (Helen Keller), 12, of Brewster have their own unforgettable connection to the story of Keller and Sullivan.
“Sage began reading books about Helen Keller when she was little,” Lach said. “She was entranced with the story. She began pretending to be Helen and learning sign language. If she had a book report to do, she would jump to write about Helen. Since Annie and Helen have been my idols since childhood, I was happy to share this passion with her. I gave her a very treasured heirloom, a letter written by Helen Keller to Sage's great-great-grandmother.”
Mother and daughter also share a natural affinity for the stage. Rebecca has been involved in theater since her own childhood, and Sage has loved the stage since she was a baby in the audience.
“Sage was two and a half years old when she was watching a play and she said, 'But mommy, when do I get to be on stage?' Since then, she's done several school shows and two at Harwich Junior Theatre. This is her first major role,” said Lach.
“The Miracle Worker” is a show Lach has always wanted to perform. Little did she realize that she'd be performing it one day with her daughter. She explained that the experience has been worth the wait. Lach recalls being captivated by books about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan when in elementary school. She was inspired to learn sign language, and she visited Perkins School for the Blind to see where Sullivan went to school. In fifth grade she wrote a short version of the play for school and performed the role of Annie Sullivan for the first time.
“I was insistent for years that I was going to be a teacher for the blind and deaf when I grew up,” Lach said. “Annie and Helen remain my idols to this day. Performing this play with my daughter is the kind of gift that makes a mom tear up with happiness.”
The rehearsal experience hasn't been all miracles, however. One of Lach's biggest challenges is the fact that she broke her toe a few weeks ago. As we all know, broken toe or no broken toe, the show must go on.
“This is a very physical role. I've been in a panic about how I'd manage,” Lach admitted. “But everyone at the theater has been very helpful and patient. Pam Banas, the director, is also a nurse and she has been great about helping me deal.”
Although Lach has known Banas for years, this is the first time they have worked together as actress and director. Lach says that Banas has jumped into the show full force and the result has been fantastic.
“Sage and I love the story and the characters so much, we just sort of flowed into it,” Lach said. “I hope we convey how phenomenal the real Annie and Helen were. They deserve to be remembered and admired.”
The cast of “The Miracle Worker” is made up of Rebecca Lach as Annie Sullivan, Sage Lach as Helen Keller, Rick Smith as Captain Arthur Keller, Tonya Felix as Kate Keller, Jarrett Strzepek as James Keller, Joseph Theroux as Dr. Anagnos, Delane Moser as Aunt Ev, Jenny Wood as Viney, Alexis Arruda as Martha, Liam Jordan as Percy and Don Howell as the Voice of the Doctor. The production is directed by Pamela Banas, with costume design by Banas and set design and lighting design by Scott Hamilton. The play will be performed on Chatham Drama Guild's newly renovated and lowered stage, which provides a more open and intimate audience experience.
“I think the audiences will love the renovations, “Lach said. “The lower stage makes it more like storytelling than watching TV. There's nothing like theater. It makes you see the good in everybody you work with and makes you connected to them forever. There are so many good people in 'The Miracle Worker,' and now we'll have those memories and that connection always.”
“The Miracle Worker”
At the Chatham Drama Guild
Friday and Saturday evenings 7 p.m., Sundays 4 p.m.
Information and reservations: 508-945-0510, chatdramaguild.org