The Miracle Worker

Syracuse Stage

March, 2011

Anna O’Donoghue, Jacqueline Baum

“Memorable theater.”

“This production, directed by Paul Barnes, is visually lavish and stunning in its creation of an upper-class Southern household in the 1880’s.  Right at the play’s onset, Michael Vaughn Sims’ design, a two-tiered set, lush with greenery of a southern plantation, and Tracy Dorman’s flawless, period-costuming create a milieu that will be set topsy-turvy by the drama’s focus as action unfolds, creating a tension that holds true throughout.

“Powerful, brutally honest, yet life-affirming. . .  a rewarding evening of top-notch theater from the opening scenes to the climactic moment of Helen’s ‘epiphany’.”

    Tony Curulla

    Syracuse Post-Standard

“Syracuse Stage’s well-crafted, inspirational The Miracle Worker delivers.”

“Syracuse Stage’s production features two outstanding performances:  Anna O’Donoghue, as a feisty Annie, and the enormously talented 11-year-old Jacqueline Baum, whose stunning work as Helen marks her first ever onstage role.  There’s some fine directing  by Paul Barnes, who’s sensitive to the fact that this is really Annie’s play.  She’s the one who makes things happen and who brings a wild child into the world of knowledge despite enormous odds.  Too many directors have become smitten by Helen’s part and its potential (and that of an energetic and talented young performer) to steal the show.  Barnes’s direction puts the major focus where it should be – on Annie’s efforts.”

    David Feldman


“Under Paul Barnes’ well-thought-out and authoritative direction, we see more of Annie’s anguish than many other productions have been able to deliver.  Breaking free from Helen Keller’s autobiography, [playwright William] Gibson relied substantially on Annie’s letters, which we see her writing.  By emphasizing the screaming pain of [Sullivan’s] abandoned [brother] Jimmie , Barnes and [Anna] O’Donoghue increase the burden weighing on Annie, tormented within as well as from without.

“The Annie-Helen dialectic takes place in a troubled household, which is more than a mere backdrop.  That the remaining three characters should be less sympathetic reminds us that one of The Miracle Worker’s strengths is its utter lack of sentimentality.  Barnes’ direction gives each one of them resonance.”

    James McKillop

    Syracuse New Times

“Director Paul Barnes has welded together a very fine production of this famous play about Helen Keller and her tutor-teacher Annie Sullivan.  All credit to Barnes and his excellent team of actors – the final moments of the drama were incredibly moving.

“Most amazing of all was the performance of our local young, eleven-year old middle-school actress, Jacqueline Baum in the role of Helen.  Here is a fine artist in the making.  No doubt much work was put in by Barnes with Baum and Anna O’Donoghue playing Ms. Sullivan.  Their crucial scenes were extraordinarily powerful, as they should be.  These struggles between Helen and Annie go on for quite some time in Act II, and it is a measure of Baum’s and O’Donoghue’s achievement that they never seemed protracted or forced.  Indeed, these scenes were absolutely compelling and gripping.

“Barnes, too, must have been instrumental in ensuring that they worked out all the moves with meticulous care.

“Gibson, Barnes, O’Donoghue and Baum between them have beautifully recreated for us that shining moment which the older Helen records and which Annie has been working towards when “a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.”  We all felt something of that rapture on opening night.”

    Bill West

    Table Hopping


What I learned. . .

Probably the most memorable thing about directing The Miracle Worker at Syracuse Stage was getting to work with Jacqueline Baum, who played Helen and who had never been in a play before.  She was, hands down, the most gifted and instinctively natural actress I think I’ve ever worked with.  Jackie intuitively understood principles of acting that it takes people many years older than she a lot of time and a lot of money to acquire without my ever having to point them out or draw her attention to them.  My teaching role was minimal; I just got to direct.  It was amazing to watch the professional adult actors in the cast slip back into the rehearsal hall to watch Jackie work. . .  the post-rehearsal conversations at various pubs and apartments about what Jackie had done that evening went on and on.  We were all dazzled – and humbled.

But what I learned about the story this time around was that it really is Annie Sullivan’s play.  It’s called The Miracle Worker, after all – not The Miracle, not The Helen Keller Story, or even Helen and Annie.  And I realized as I prepped for the production that the last spoken line in the script belongs to Annie: “I love Helen.  For ever. . .  and ever.”  In order to get her to the point where she can permit love to enter her life, we needed to flesh out the often discarded “flashback scenes” – with Jimmie and the Crones – that haunt Annie until she can finally put them to rest.  It’s only after the miracle at the pump that Annie can move into the future with her extraordinary pupil, and I worked hard to make that transition and that transformation clear and complete.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful cast and exceptional designers to help make it all possible.

Plus, of course, Sonar the retired rescue dog, who always blessed the rehearsal hall any time she came to work.