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'Tale of triumph' at Playhouse
Production highlights early years of activist
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Lauren Hunt, right, helps Debbi Hamm curl her hair before preview night of “The Miracle Worker” at the Cumming Playhouse on Wednesday. - photo by Autumn McBride

If you’re going

The Cumming Playhouse will present “The Miracle Worker” at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and at 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 2. Tickets are $20 or $15 for groups of 15 or more. Donations above the ticket cost are also being sought for the Forsyth County Lions Club. To buy tickets or for more information, visit or call (770) 781-9178.

A real-life story of courage and inspiration has begun a five-week run at Cumming Playhouse.

“The Miracle Worker,” is being produced by Gypsy Theatre Company. The show, which opened Thursday, runs through Oct. 2.

The play tells the story of the early life of Helen Keller, a 20th century author and social activist, who was blind and deaf.

Born in 1880 in Alabama, Keller lived the first years of her life in a silent world, unable to communicate, and so spoiled and violent she was almost feral.

But then a teacher, Annie Sullivan, came into Keller’s life. Sullivan realized Keller was teachable and began diligent work with her.

“The Miracle Worker,” based on Keller’s autobiography, tells the story of Sullivan and Keller’s early relationship.

The show’s director, who goes by only Mercury, said being based on a true story should make the play a draw for audiences.

“Part of the unique appeal of this show is the fact that it is a true story,” Mercury said. “It’s an amazing, uplifting tale of triumph. It’s amazing what Annie and Helen were able to accomplish together.”

Kealy Ford, 11, plays the show’s young lead.

She said portraying a real person of historical significance has been “amazing.”

“I had heard of [Keller] and was interested in her, but I didn’t know much before the show,” Ford said. “It’s a really touching and life-changing story.”

Similarly, Danielle Gustaveson, who plays Keller’s teacher, Annie Sullivan, didn’t know much about the story before taking on the role.

“I hadn’t seen the movie, but we rented it one night when we knew we were going to be doing this show,” she said. “I was on the edge of my seat watching the movie. When I saw it, I really wanted to do this part.”

Dave Lauby, who plays Keller’s father, was very familiar with the story.

“When you get to a certain age, you get a kind of a bucket list of characters you want to do, and this was one of them,” Lauby said, noting the character is often “misinterpreted” as only harsh and angry.

“There’s actually much more to him than that. He’s a loving father and a considerate husband. Those layers of a character are what make them interesting to play.”

Both Ford and Gustaveson said the biggest challenge in their roles has been portraying the physical battles the woman and girl went through as Sullivan tried to break through to Keller.

“We had to learn fight choreography,” Gustaveson said. “I’ve lost eight pounds since we started this.” 

Added Ford: “It’s really physical, so it was hard to remember everything at first, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

Despite some serious topics, Gustaveson said the play also has many funny moments.

“I worry that people might feel it’s too heavy since people like comedy,” she said. “But there’s so much humor in this story. It’s really surprising how much humor is in it, so I hope people will realize that and come see it.

“It’s an uplifting and inspiring story.”

Linda Heard, executive director of the Cumming Playhouse, noted the show will also benefit a good cause.

She explained that patrons can make donations above the ticket cost, with all donations going to the Forsyth County Lions Club, which has a number of programs to assist the blind and those in need of vision assistance.

“The Lions Club has worked diligently with the sale of tickets and has successfully sold out Saturday night’s show of the first weekend and several others throughout the run,” Heard said.

“They also promoted the show at their national convention this spring and have been a very important part of the show’s expected success.”

Helen Keller herself was an inspiration for the national Lions Club organization.

Assistance for the blind and visually-impaired was chosen as the club’s philanthropy because of a challenge Keller issued at the organization’s national convention in a 1925 speech.