The Miracle Worker (play)

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The Miracle Worker
Anne Bancroft Patty Duke Miracle Worker 1 1960.jpg
Anne Bancroft Patty Duke Miracle Worker 1 1960.
Written byWilliam Gibson
CharactersAnnie Sullivan
Helen Keller
Captain Arthur Keller
Kate Keller
James Keller
Aunt Ev (Evelyn)
Date premieredOctober 19, 1959
Place premieredPlayhouse Theatre
Original languageEnglish
SettingTuscumbia, Alabama

The Miracle Worker is a three-act play by William Gibson adapted from his 1957 Playhouse 90 teleplay of the same name. It was based on Helen Keller's 1903 autobiography, The Story of My Life.


In Tuscumbia, Alabama, an illness renders infant Helen Keller blind, deaf, and consequently mute (deaf-mute).[1] Pitied and badly spoiled by her parents, Helen is taught no discipline and, by the age of six, grows into a wild, angry, tantrum-throwing child in control of the household. Desperate, the Kellers hire Annie Sullivan to serve as governess and teacher for their daughter. After several fierce battles with Helen, Annie convinces the Kellers that she needs two weeks alone with Helen in order to achieve any progress in the girl's education. In that time, Annie teaches Helen discipline through persistence and consistency, and language through hand signals, a double breakthrough that changes Helen's life and has a direct effect on the lives of everyone in the family.


  • Annie Sullivan
  • Helen Keller
  • Captain Arthur H. Keller
  • Kate Keller
  • James Keller
  • Aunt Ev
  • Anagnos
  • Viney
  • Percy
  • Martha
  • Blind Girls
  • Offstage Voices


The play premiered on Broadway at the Playhouse Theatre on October 19, 1959, and closed on July 1, 1961, after 719 performances. The production was directed by Arthur Penn with scenic and lighting design by George Jenkins and costumes by Ruth Morley. The cast starred Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller. Featured in the cast were Torin Thatcher as Captain Keller, Patricia Neal as Kate Keller, Michael Constantine as Anagnos, and Beah Richards as Viney. Patty Duke remained with the play for its entire run. Suzanne Pleshette eventually replaced Anne Bancroft.

The play was first produced in the West End in March 1961 with Anna Massey as Sullivan and Janina Faye as Keller. It transferred to Wyndham's Theatre in May of the same year. A revival was produced at Wyndham's Theatre on August 31, 1994 and closed on October 8.[2] The production was directed by Richard Olivier and Bill Kenwright. The cast featured Catherine Holman as Keller, Jenny Seagrove as Sullivan, William Gaunt as Captain Keller, Judi Bowker as Kate Keller, and Michael Thornton as Anagnos.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the play, it was revived on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre, opening on March 3, 2010. Directed by Kate Whoriskey, the cast starred Alison Pill as Sullivan and Abigail Breslin as Keller. The cast featured Matthew Modine as Captain Keller, Jennifer Morrison as Kate Keller, Tobias Segal as James Keller, and Elizabeth Franz as Aunt Ev. Despite critical praise, the revival failed to find an audience and closed on April 4, 2010 (after 21 previews and 38 regular performances), with the entire $2,600,000 capitalization in the project being lost.[3][4]

In May 2011, Duke continued her career-long involvement with the play by directing a production of it at Interplayers Theatre in Spokane, Washington, near her Idaho home.[5]

Ivy Green, Helen Keller's childhood home, hosts an annual outdoor production which is Alabama's official outdoor drama.[6][7]

Critical response[edit]

Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke on Broadway, 1960.

Time called the original production "a story that, however well known, acquires stunning new reality and affectingness on the stage. The overwhelming force of the play's crucial scenes could not have derived from the stirring facts alone, nor from Playwright Gibson's vivid use of them. What proves memories," which it characterized as "fairly makeshift, at times clumsy, and, when sound-tracking voices from the past, occasionally embarrassing," it praised the scenes that "in the hands of two remarkable actresses, constitute unforgettable theater." [8]

The New York Times in its review titled "Giver of Light" also praised the "glorious performance" of Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke's "wonderfully truthful and touching" performance as Helen, along with those of Patricia Neal and Torin Thatcher as Helen's parents. While finding similar flaws in the narrative structure of the play, it praised the play as "profoundly moving" and noted that any of its failings did not "destroy the emotional power of the essential struggle in the drama."[9]

Screen adaptations[edit]

Gibson, Penn, Bancroft, and Duke reunited for a 1962 film adaptation which was highly acclaimed. Gibson and Penn were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, Penn was nominated as Best Director, and both Bancroft (portraying Sullivan) and Duke (portraying Keller) won the Academy Award for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. The play has also been adapted for TV twice, first in 1979 on NBC with Duke as Sullivan and Melissa Gilbert as Helen, and again in 2000 on ABC (as part of The Wonderful World of Disney) with Alison Elliott as Sullivan and Hallie Kate Eisenberg as Helen. It's also been adapted for Italian (RAI, 1968) and Spanish (TVE, 1978) television.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1960 Tony Awards Best Play Won
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Anne Bancroft Won
Best Direction of a Play Arthur Penn Won
Best Scenic Design George C. Jenkins Nominated
Best Stage Technician John Walters Won
Theatre World Award Patty Duke Won


  1. ^ Deaf-mute
  2. ^ "'The Miracle Worker' listing". Archived from the original on March 4, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
  3. ^ BWW News Desk (March 28, 2010). "The Miracle Worker to Close on Broadway April 4". Broadway World. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
  4. ^ Gans, Andrew; Jones, Kenneth (March 28, 2010). "The Miracle Worker Will Go Dark; Final Broadway Performance Is April 4". Playbill. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
  5. ^ Kershner, Jim (May 7, 2011). "Review of Duke-directed 'Miracle Worker'". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  6. ^ Teri Thornton Stepleton (June 3, 2016), "Miracle at Ivy Green", TimesDaily, retrieved May 8, 2019
  7. ^ "Official Alabama Outdoor Drama". Official Symbols and Emblems of Alabama. Alabama Department of Archives and History. February 6, 2014. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  8. ^ Time writers (November 2, 1959). "The Theater: New Plays on Broadway, Nov. 2, 1959". Time. Retrieved June 16, 2008.
  9. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (October 20, 1959). "Theatre: Giver of Light" (PDF). The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. 44. Retrieved July 22, 2010.

External links[edit]