The Golden Chain Theatre's dramatic production of "The Miracle Worker," the autobiography of the blind, deaf, and speechless child Helen Keller, opens Friday and runs for three weekends.
Based on Keller's autobiography "The Story of My Life," immortalized on stage and screen by Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.
The play presents the heart warming story about Annie Sullivan and her pupil, Keller, whom she must teach to understand language to communicate with her family as they prepare to send her to an asylum.
Trapped in a secret, silent world, unable to communicate, Helen is violent, spoiled, almost sub-human and treated by her family as such. Only Sullivan realizes that there is a mind and spirit waiting to be rescued from the dark, tortured silence, and her success with Helen finally comes with the utterance of a single, glorious word water.
Keller eventually becomes the future voice for all deaf and or blind people for the next century.
Taking on the demanding role of Keller is Amber Persson, a 13-year-old Wasuma Elementary School seventh grader.
Playing a person who can not speak or see, honor student Persson uses her body language and acting ability to depict the life of Keller in the production, written by William Gibson.
Working with seasoned cast members has helped Persson. Co-starring with Persson is Golden Chain veteran actress Tawni Jackson, who excels in the role of teacher Sullivan.
"Amber truly shows perfection in this challenging role," said Jackson.
"The role is frustrating at times because I have no lines," Persson said. "I just want to call out, 'I'm here - I'm here. I was excited and a little scared at the same time when I first heard I got the role," Persson said. "I got more comfortable and confident with the role once we got into rehearsals. Working with Jason (Director Jason Turner), who has such talent, has been another wonderful learning experience for me."
"When choosing a play such as "The Miracle Worker," you want to make sure that you have a child actor who can pull off a character as challenging as Helen Keller," said Turner. "After watching Amber rehearsing "The Secret Garden" last year, I knew right away that she was someone very special. It is rare to find someone her age with not only a natural talent, but a very strict work ethic and the willingness to always go that extra mile."
Turner's Golden Chain acting credits include playing Elwood in "Harvey," and Montague Leech in "Dark Deeds." He also directed "Jack the Ripper."
Cast members in "The Miracle Worker" are not new to Amber. One in particular, the woman playing her mother, Kate Keller, is very special Amber's real-life mother, Sarah Persson.
"I try not to see her as my daughter on stage, but am able to use some of my parental instincts when working with Amber in this production," Sarah said. "What has been challenging for me is Amber rehearsing the dinner scene (with Tawni), which is very emotional."
Sarah said her daughter's role in "The Miracle Worker," is a great opportunity and a great stepping-stone toward her goal of acting as an adult.
Persson's first time on the Golden Chain stage came at the age of eight, as a dancer in the musical "Don't Say No to the USO."
Patti Law-Poggi directed her in "The Secret Garden," Persson's first leading role on stage in May of 2013.
"It was a great experience and I wanted more chances to act."
She then secured a role in "Tin Pan Alley," directed by Jennifer Piccolotti this past November.
"I love to sing, and to be in Jennifer's musical was so much fun," Persson said.
Persson recently placed third in the seventh grade speech competition at the Madera County Academic Pentathlon and also participates in volleyball, basketball, cross country, and soccer.
Other cast members include Jennifer Varner (Aunt Eve), who won the Golden Chain 2013 Best Actress in a Lead Role for her portrayal of Veta in "Harvey." Peter Clarke, the currant president of the Golden Chain Board of Directors, who played Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in "Jack the Ripper," will play Captain Keller, Helen's father.
Additional cast members include Ken Marks, Keith Treadway, Marlie Kelsey, Julie O'Brien, Tyler Smith, William O'Brien and Skyler Brasher.
Set and light design are by Turner and Nathan Avery who also designed "Harvey," "Dark Deed," and "Jack the Ripper."
"I am very proud of everyone who has put so much into this show," Turner said. "It has made my last directional effort at the Golden Chain Theatre a very special experience for me."
The production runs for three weekends April 4-6, April 11-13, and April 18-19 (no performance on Easter Sunday). The Friday and Saturday shows are at 7 p.m. with Sunday performances at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Adults: $12, seniors (55+) $10, students and active military $8. Group rates are available.
Golden Chain open auditions
The Golden Chain will hold open auditions, 6:30 p.m., April 7-9, at the Golden Chain Theatre. Open positions include actors, back stage, sound and lights, marketing, directing, set construction and painting, singers, dancers, seamstresses, wardrobe, hostesses and many others. All interested are encouraged to attend.
Upcoming productions are The Mumberly Inheritance, The Boarding House, Angel Street, and the musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The theatre also performs a shorter melodrama at various locations, including the Sugar Pine Mountain Railroad.
Details: Mary Lou Finley, (559) 683-4789.