Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Miracle Worker

A couple of months ago, I noticed a listing at our church of a group called “Golden Gaters”. They have taken “trips” or “activities” that appeared to be for “old timers” - like me. The trips mentioned didn’t interest me very much, until I saw one scheduled to go to Cedarville University to see a stage play entitled “The Miracle Worker”.

This struck a chord with me, since right away I knew that it was the story of Annie Sullivan, the partially blind lady who began working with the legendary Helen Keller, when Helen was merely seven years old, and Annie, not quite twenty-one.

I had seen the original television movie starring Patty Duke as Helen, and Anne Bancroft as Annie - made in 1957.

This was followed by a Broadway play in 1959, with the same cast.

Then, some years later I saw the same story, starring Patty Duke again - but, THIS time, as Annie Sullivan, along with Melissa Gilbert as Helen.

Then, less than a year ago, I again saw the original movie on Television.

I was as intrigued this third time, as I was the first. The story was captivating, and appeared to be essentially true, and was written by William Gibson, based on actual letters from Annie Sullivan in 1887.

Back to the “Golden Gaters”.

The promotion/announcements about this “outing” - as we call them here at The Grand Court - gave a date of October 2, and the need to sign up and pay $18.00 by September 20. The price, of course, included lunch at the “humongous” student cafeteria, principally designed for the 3,000 plus students of the University.

When the sign-up sheet appeared in the Narthex of the Church on September 13, I signed up right away. Then, on September 20, just before church started, there were only seven signed up.

That’s plenty for the bus, I presumed.

The next thing that happened is a mystery to me. I thought sure I had put the date of October 2 in my BlackBerry, for the trip to Cedarville. I just forgot about it after I paid for the ticket.

On Thursay, October 1, I got a call from the man who arranges the Golden Gaters outings, saying that I should arrive at the church at 11:30, since the bus would leave at 11:45.

The “light went on”, and I just said,

“What day is that, now?”

“Tomorrow”, he said.

“I’ll be there.”, I said, never “letting on” that I goofed.

I still can’t figure out what happened - unless when I upgraded to a later model of BlackBerry, is it possible that I didn’t “copy” that date?

Hardly - since I “restored” all the BlackBerry data from the “back-up” file on my computer. Everything else copied. I must have neglected to “schedule” this outing on the phone back in September.

Praise the Lord for “filling in” for my mistake.

I arrived at the church right on time, and discovered that an old friend was driving the bus (I’m not well acquainted with every one there yet). Then, the man and wife arranging the tours were known to me. And, just before we left, Ernie and Irene showed up. Ernie was one of my Board Members when I was President of WEEC.

So, I began to feel at home.

The leader answered a question about how many were going, and he said 20. Apparently, several had signed up that same Sunday at the deadline. It turned out that the bus driver’s husband was sick, so we were short one of twenty.

We left the church right at 11:45, and went south to Cedarville.

The bus driver knew right where to go. I would have been lost, since they have added maybe 10 or 12 buildings since I used to visit there.

An aside: When the leadership of the Baptist Bible Institute of Cleveland bought Cedarville College in ABOUT 1952 or ‘53, I attended an Evening School class there, taught by Dr. Arthur Williams. (I could’t remember his given name for several days - until now.)

Back to The Miracle Worker:

We arrived at one of the Student Buildings there, that housed - among other things - the Dining Room; the Theater; the Bookstore; and myriad other rooms and, I suppose, Classrooms.

We joined the 3,000 plus students in the LARGE Dining Hall, and got in line at one of the maybe 7 or 8 different lines to different kinds of food.

I filled up on that, then got two pieces of chocolate dessert, then filed out to the hallway to await the entrance to the Theater.

Another couple was there that I have known for over 40 years, and we spent a good bit of time reminiscing and fellow-shipping about the Lord and the past. They now attend the same church.

In fact, the wife reminded me that they felt I was responsible for their attending this church 30 some years ago.

They had attended two different churches in the Springfield area, she reminded me, but didn’t feel quite at home at either.

My being at WEEC made them think that I might have an idea for a place for them to settle down in a church.

Here’s why:

When I was at WEEC, new listeners would move into our listening area, wondering where would be a church of their liking. Often, they would call me and ask for a church “like WEEC”.

What I always did was to ask them where they attended church “back home” - if they were happy in it - and after their telling me about it, I recommended 3 churches I knew of near their home, and having a teaching as close as possible to their old church. Never only one denomination.

I would not permit any of us staff members to recommend our own local church. That would hardly be objective, now, would it?

You might ask:

“How would you know so much about the churches that you could recommend one?”

Over a period of 20 plus years, I got a picture of the hundreds of churches in our listening area that NO ONE ELSE could possibly have gotten - without doing what we did.

After our three children got their own families, Jean and I spent every Sunday visiting different churches in our listening area - for over 20 years. In some cases, I would be the guest speaker, guest singer, or just a visitor, but I could get a picture of that church in my own mind, in order to recommend it - or not.

So, when this couple asked me for a recommendation, I found out their doctrinal preferences, and suggested this church that they now attend, would most likely meet their expectations.

Though I don’t remember specifically, I’m sure I suggested more than one.

I digress, as usual.

The time came for us to enter the Theater, and for the Play “The Miracle Worker” to start.

The Theater is rather small, though it has a nice sized balcony. You could feel a kinship with the actors, and be “right in the picture” with them.

About the play:

On the first page of the program, a Sarah L. Murphy, Dramaturg (literary advisor to the play) writes:

Despite the fact that William Gibson wrote THE MIRACLE WORKER in the late 1950s, the story and themes remain timeless. Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan have become legends in American history. A deaf-blind child is taught to communicate and take part in the human experience by the half-blind 20-year-old. THE MIRACLE WORKER shows what can be accomplished by all who put their mind (sic) to it. It is a story of transformation, of love, of learning, and of meaning.

The theme of transformation refers not only to Helen and what she learns, but also to the relationship with her family. At the start, the Kellers aren’t sure what to do with Helen, a disobedient child they cannot reach. When Helen finally learns, the relationship is transformed to that of a loving family. Kate Keller can finally communicate with her daughter. Annie begins the play haunted by her past in the asylum. She hears voices that constantly bring up the pain she experienced. Once she realizes her love for Helen, those voices disappear. Annie has overcome her past.

Helen and Annie prove that the human spirit can triumph over all disabilities. They give encouragement to those who live with any disability and a challenge to those without one.

Several scenes from the original movie:

Helen Keller "seeing" President Eisenhower:

Helen in adulthood:

Having seen movie versions of the play at least 3 times, I was ready to compare this “College Age” cast to what I had seen on the screen.

Surely the movie version would be superior.

I found that NOT to be the case, at least in my opinion.

The dialogue was perfect, with NOT ONE hesitation in speech; the mannerisms of cast members were thoroughly believable; the stage settings and props were superb; scene changes were swift.

But, to me, the REAL test was the Classic breakfast table scene, in which Helen and Annie have a thoroughly crafted “fight”, over Annie trying to get Helen to feed herself, AND, “fold her napkin”. (At that age, Helen was incorrigible) This went on for several minutes, with one time both of them ending up on the floor, flailing at each other.


At the end of the play, some of us could not keep from standing, clapping and whistling to show our appreciation.

There are other “outings” of this Golden Gaters group that I might participate in. The next one is a visit to Rio Grande, OH, the birthplace of the Bob Evans Restaurants - and the FIRST one to open.

Since Jean and I had visited there twice - once the two of us, and another time taking along her 92 year old father, I don’t think I’ll go this time.

Actually, we have enough outings here at The Grand Court to keep us “old timers” busy.

THE MIRACLE WORKER, though, is worth seeing again, under most any circumstance.


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