Source: Hometown Life
Author: Brad Kadrich
Kathy Sill was in Tuscumbia, Ala., in July, visiting the home of Helen Keller, the author, political activist and lecturer who became the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree and whose story was told in the Academy Award-winning movie, "The Miracle Worker."
While she was there, she viewed a production of the play of the same name on the grounds of Keller's home, Ivy Green. The experience, Sill said, was an amazing one.
"I stood at the water pump where she uttered her first word and was overwhelmed by the experience," Sill said.
She's getting a chance to recreate the experience for audiences at Mercy High School this week, as Mercy presents its own production of "The Miracle Worker" (they've even incorporated a working fountain into their show).
It's not the first time Mercy has done "The Miracle Worker" — the last time, Sill said, was in the early 1990s — and this year's production has a connection to a decades-old play. Maddy Keuten is playing the doctor this year, 33 years after her mother played Helen Keller.
The story, of course, is about Keller and Annie Sullivan, the teacher who helps Keller learn to speak. The play, Sill said, presents a unique opportunity for actors to play American women "who are celebrated."
"It's a rare thing that a student gets to play an actual person from history, not a fictional character," Sill said. "It's just such a great story."
The actor at the center of the production has a pretty good story of her own. Junior Jillian Bocketti, who transferred to Mercy after Ladywood High School in Livonia closed at the end of last year, nailed the lead role in her first production at Mercy.
"I've never had a role where I'm playing someone who was an actual person," she said. "It's kind of strange, I don't know what she was actually like, so I'm guessing from what I've heard."
Being a sighted actor pulling off the blind Keller isn't that big a stretch for the usually bespectacled Bocketti — "She really can't see a thing without her glasses," Sill said with a chuckle — who doesn't wear contacts.
"I have to listen (hard) for my cues, but I have to ignore (other actors) physically," Bocketti said.
Junior Caitlin Griffin is playing Sullivan, whose personality, Griffin said, is quite the opposite of her own. Sullivan, she acknowledged, was probably stronger than Griffin is.
"It's hard to play someone who was real ... I've had to get to know (Sullivan)," Griffin said. "She's a lot different from my personality. She's strong and says what she wants, but I'm more reserved, so I have to bring my strong parts out."
Bocketti and Griffin — playing the show's two primary characters — didn't really know each other when rehearsals began in September. Both actors already knew sign language, so that helped, but Sill said getting the chemistry right between them was a challenge at first.
"Building a relationship that created chemistry between them was a challenge," Sill said. "(But) I finally saw the magic last week. It was ... BOOM! ... they got it."
"The Miracle Worker" plays in the Mercy High School auditorium at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9-10, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Nov. 11. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the box office or by calling 248-893-3572.
Tickets are $10 in advance (slhstheatre.com) and $12 at the door. Mercy High School is located at the corner of 11 Mile and Middlebelt roads in Farmington Hills.
Contact Brad Kadrich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @bkadrich.
Bocketti agreed with Sill that playing a real-life character is unusual; in fact, Bocketti said, it's actually a little "weird."