The setup By the time deaf, dumb and blind Helen Keller (Sydney Dunlap) has her hand forced under the water pump by her fierce teacher Annie Sullivan (Renata Santoro Smith) and finally connects the spelling of "water" to what is flowing over her hand, thereby connecting her to everything in the world, you might find yourself blubbering like a baby at the tale's mighty emotional pull, especially as performed in the intimate space of the Black Box at Country Playhouse.
William Gibson's 1959 Tony winner, adapted from his own earlier TV play, and later turned into an Academy Award-winning movie, is one hell of a ride, as it details in painful confrontations how much "work" both Sullivan and Keller had to endure to break through little Helen's immense wall of darkness.
The execution Raised by her well-intentioned parents as if a favored pet, allowed to run roughshod, pitied, and fed candy at the least provocation to keep her quiet, Helen nevertheless had immense reserves of humanity and brilliance that she would later evoke so brilliantly under Sullivan's tremendously challenging tutelage. It's a story of man's immeasurable ability and the limitless flight of the human spirit.
Of course, before the breakthrough, there are bloody fights, smashed dishes, thrown forks, slapped faces, knocked-out teeth, needle pricks and pulled hair. I do wish a few of the punches weren't so obviously pulled up short - a good crack across the face does wonders for the drama.
But both actors shine gloriously, as does the ensemble. As Sullivan, Smith shows grave reserve and Irish temper. Taking "no" for an answer is not in her vocabulary. As Keller, young Dunlap matches her in animal ferocity and go-for-broke intensity.
The verdict It's quite a show, even if a few of the "artistic touches" (the voiceovers, the projections) fall flat. But there's always that immediate, in-your-face drama that's so real and, ohh, so effective. Have a Kleenex?
Through April 9. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. -- DLG
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