In an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the turn of the century, Radcliffe aspirant Helen Keller is finishing her transition from invalid to celebrity. Her teacher, Annie Sullivan, is there to help her. John Macy, a writer, soon arrives to join the effort.
"Monday After The Miracle," now in a meticulously polished production at the Eisenhower Theater, is William Gibson's sequel to his hit of 20 years ago, "The Miracle Worker." But this latest installment in the Sullivan/Keller saga holds a bleaker vision -- not of blindness and deafness conquered, but of bondage barely broken.
The slavery here is emotional: Annie's to Helen and vice-versa -- "I wanted to free you and be free," Helen tells her at one point -- and John's to them both. "I came to woo you," he says ardently to Annie, then points to Helen. "I have to woo her first?"
Directed with loving care by William Penn, this is an understated, almost gray- looking play, which brightens in the glow of first-rate perfomances from Jane Alexander as Annie, Karen Allen as Helen and William Converse-Roberts as John, as well as from Matt McKenzie and Joseph Warren in lesser roles.
Allen, a bona-fide movie star opposite Harrison Ford in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," proves herself no stranger to the stage. Having played Helen in the original production at the Actor's Studio last year, she manages to be both spunky and helpless: her wisdom -- "I love Teacher, but living with her is like being in a vise" -- uttered with the locution of one who has never heard speech; her hands fluttering like a hummingbird's wings whenever she's left alone in her blindness. "I'm a freak," she insists. "My problem is to live in this world."
Alexander, of course, is an accomplished actress. Here, the audience watches her get older and wearier as she changes from mid- life newlywed -- with Converse-Roberts -- to desolate divorcee. For his own part, Converse-Roberts convincingly transforms himself from self-assured 26-year-old to resentful lush. "Your time is not Helen's birthright," he rails at Alexander, as Helen herself becomes more self-assured.
This play, on one level, can be a pause that depresses. On another, though, it's exhilarating, especially when you see the deft choreography and acting that go into such moments as the knock-down and drag-out between John and Annie, with Helen as referee. All communication with Helen is tactile, by sign language or moving lips into her palms -- which gives the simplest dialogue a striking visual quality onstage. But the actors make it look as comfortable as a chat.
MONDAY AFTER THE MIRACLE -- At the Eisenhower Theater through November 13.