The story of author and activist Helen Keller’s beginnings will be brought to life next month when the Queens Theatre puts on “The Miracle Worker.”
Helen Keller, who lived in Forest Hills from 1917 to 1938, was born without disabilities until an illness (believed to be meningitis or scarlet fever) left her both deaf and blind at the age of 19 months. “The Miracle Worker” chronicles Keller’s experiences and struggles of learning how to navigate her prison of silence and darkness with the help of Anne Sullivan, a teacher who would become Keller’s lifelong companion.
“‘The Miracle Worker’ is the true story of two inspirational figures,” said Taryn Sacramone, executive director of Queens Theatre. “It is about the power of motivation and our will to connect with other people. We know our audiences will be moved by this production.”
In its 1959 Broadway debut, “The Miracle Worker” starred Elmhurst native Patty Duke as Keller and Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan, Keller’s instructor and lifelong companion. This time, 10-year-old Ayla Schwartz will take the lead role of Keller with Betsy Hogg as Anne Sullivan.
Schwartz, a fourth-grade student at New Jersey’s Watchung Elementary School, has performed in the Off-Broadway in “Madeline’s Christmas” as well as local productions of “School of Rock” and “How to Eat Like a Child.” Hogg, a graduate of Northwestern University, began acting at the age of 9 and performed in “Bye Bye Birdie” and the National Tour of “Show Boat.”
To get ready for the performance, the actors who will be putting on “The Miracle Worker” had the opportunity to walk in Keller’s footsteps with the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC). The actors participated in a “simulation experience” in which they wore sleep shades and earplugs to experience some of what it feels like to be blind and deaf, followed by a Q&A with deaf-blind students and staff to get more insight on their struggles and experiences.
“When rehearsing a powerful play like The Miracle Worker, the actors become immersed in every facet of the production and are keenly aware of the show’s celebrated history, including the legacies of original cast members Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft,” noted Sacramone. “I believe that visiting the Helen Keller National Center opened up yet another dimension for us. We got to relax and spend time with some amazing people who shared their personal experiences with the cast. It was very inspiring. We’re so grateful and look forward to welcoming all our new HKNC friends to Queens next month.”
Showtimes for the performance are May 12 at 8 p.m.; May 13 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; May 14 at 3 p.m.; May 18 at 2 p.m.; May 20 and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and May 21 at 3 p.m. Tickets are available for $42 for general admission, $35 for Queens Theatre members and $25 for rear side seats. For tickets, visit the Queens Theatre website.