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That angelic face you see on the posters for the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “The Miracle Worker” (through May 20) is clearly false advertising. The Helen Keller encountered in the play is more hellion than saint, kicking and soundlessly screaming her way through her adolescence and, for most of the time, resisting the efforts of teacher Annie Sullivan to introduce the foreign concept of “communication.”
It gets ugly on the IRT stage, and their battles are choreographed and performed with an edge-of-the-seat excitement that would put a WWF fan on seat’s edge.
Sure, we know what’s going to happen at the water pump at play’s end. But thanks to 12-year-old Ciarra Krohne, Helen’s breakthrough never seems a foregone conclusion. One could argue that the make-or-break moment for any production of “The Miracle Worker” comes in the casting of Helen Keller. And the actress found for the part is a feisty gem.
As her opponent/teacher, IRT newcomer Nora Fiffer is less successful, finding the accent but not the heart or the subtlety in Sullivan. Granted, she also gets the bulk of the lines that haven’t aged well, including awkwardly staged conversations with her late brother. She’s also not helped by the rotating house set. Stunning, yes, but its slow spinning also wet-blankets the climax, putting the audience too far ahead of the drama while it waits for the final turn.