This year, ten-year-old Evie Rosa Butler was cast for the first time as young Helen. Butler is the daughter of Darren Butler, who began his sixteenth year as director of the extraordinary play. Show business must run in the family because with each rehearsed expression and timed movement, Evie Butler takes the audience through Keller’s incredible journey from the time she met her teacher, Anne Sullivan, to learning her first word, a miracle that only took a little over a month to achieve. For me, having little knowledge on the background of Helen Keller, I was astounded not only by the story but also by the level of acting from her and the entire cast. It was emotional and moving to say the very least.
The production was originally put on directly behind the main house where the play’s events took place 128 years ago, complete with the authentic water pump where Helen learned to spell “water” to Ms. Sullivan. An amphitheater was later built in the backyard of Ivy Green, and a new stage was constructed for this year’s shows. It is raised for better viewing, and the layout now more accurately represents the historic house.
Live action scenes of a young Anne Sullivan and her brother, Jimmie, as they lived in Tewksbury Hospital among the sick and mentally ill were also added this season. These sections were previously played as audio recordings, but with the new stage, a separate room was built and covered in black cloth to visualize these flashbacks for the audience.
But even as the cast changes, the set is modified, and the production evolves, I think the reason the wonder of “The Miracle Worker” stays alive is because of the powerful piece of history it portrays. After her pivotal breakthrough at the water pump at Ivy Green, Keller went on to become the first deafblind person to graduate college. She wrote fourteen books, helped pioneer braille as the official writing system for the blind, and visited thirty-nine countries to rally for the establishment of schools for the deaf and blind. Helen Keller was and is one of the most accomplished and, well, miraculous people to ever come from Alabama. It is apparent that through this production the spirit of Helen Keller will live on for many years to come.