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Annie Sullivan, again

South Boston News
Annie Sullivan (Victoria Thomasson) works with her helper Percy (Jeremiah Medley) to inspire Helen (Victoria Montes-Bradley) to want to learn.
SoVaNow.com / October 23, 2017
Seventeen years ago, Victoria Thomasson tackled an extremely difficult stage role, portraying the teacher Annie Sullivan in Halifax County Little Theatre’s production of “The Miracle Worker,” directed by Chris Jones. Those who saw the show were moved by the story of the blind and deaf young girl, Helen Keller, and the determined teacher who wanted her to be able to communicate with others and to know that objects and people had names that she could learn through the new manual alphabet Sullivan had learned.

The show was a success, and it was such a powerful tale of the woman who had the determination, love, and stubbornness to teach this nearly wild child and bring order and education to her — to give the child’s life meaning — that it was a show that Chris Jones decided he wanted to do again for The Prizery’s fall offering. And who else to play Annie Sullivan again than the person who had touched so many the first time she did it, Victoria Thomasson.

The last time Thomasson was on stage was in a production of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” in 2006, in which she portrayed the White Witch of Narnia. Since then, Thomasson’s main time on stage has been in directing others, usually in big splashy musicals, such as “Smokey Joe’s Café,” “Beehive,” and most recently, “Chicago.” She says she actually prefers directing, creating the big picture for the audience, rather than focusing on one character and her interactions with others.

But Annie Sullivan is a special character, made all the harder because she was a real person who has iconic stature in history.

“The job of portraying Annie Sullivan is actually harder than I realized the first time I played her. I was so concerned with creating my character and learning the movements and the manual alphabet and my blocking that I don’t know that I dug as deep into Annie’s complicated past as I have this time,” she said.

“I have a whole new respect for what she accomplished after having endured her own tragedies in her life: being placed in an orphanage with her younger brother, whom she lost due to a disease he had, and her guilt over not being able to save him; her own dismal vision problems; and her lack of any support in her life.

“I have a new level of appreciation for her as I dig into her subliminal reasons for helping Helen. She is channeling her brother Jimmy through Helen, and she is desperate to save Helen, since she couldn’t save Jimmy. Her brashness — to others — is just her desperate attempt to save Helen.

“The complexity of what she did, the enormity of what she did, is mind boggling. I want the audiences to understand what an incredible woman Annie Sullivan was, to respect her as a pioneer in American special education. As a special education teacher for most of my teaching career, this role has tugged at a very special place in my heart,” she said.

Director Chris Jones said, “Audiences will see her reprise a powerhouse performance of Annie Sullivan. Her stamina is monumental! Her creativity is always flowing! Her performance is not to be missed.”

This production of the show has a whole new cast, except for Thomasson. It is being produced by The Prizery on their stage, while the original was done in 2000, while Little Theatre was still performing on the high school stage, a much larger space to fill. Yet there are a few original backstage people who agreed to assist again, namely Melissa Peacock and Cynthia Haugh on props.

“Oh, my heavens,” Thomasson exclaimed. “Those two ladies have so many period properties to find and place and create, not even counting the food they have to prepare nightly for us to eat in a few scenes. “They are wonderful!”

“And Cyndi Overby is our stage manager, and I’m so comfortable with her behind the scenes, as she has been the stage manager for many of the musicals I’ve directed. She is a real asset to the show as well, along with Ginny Bogart and the costumes she is creating from the early 1900s.”

“Since I have been busy directing shows myself, I have not had a chance to work with Chris Jones closely, but watching him work on stage with lighting and moving people to just the right places to make beautiful pictures on stage to tell the story just right — THAT has been really fascinating to me. He makes stage magic happen!”

And finally, there are two Victorias on stage: Thomasson as Annie Sullivan, and her new Helen, Victoria Montes-Bradley.

“We have a really close relationship. We have spent an incredible amount of time together. There is a lot of physicality required, and we communicate on many levels since Helen can’t talk. As the adult, I feel really responsible for her safety. She has to trust me, and she has grown so much,” Thomasson said.

“Victoria as Helen is beautiful to watch. You know through her facial expressions that Helen is smart, even though she can’t talk. She can be funny as Helen does something to effect a certain response from the adults around her. Helen is a wild child, but Victoria has imbued a bit of whimsy in her.”

“The entire cast has bonded together. We support each other, and it’s been so nice to get to know them and work with them.”

The show opened last weekend but concludes with three final performances this weekend: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling 434-572-8339, going to http://www.prizery.com, or by stopping by the Prizery or the Visitor’s Center on 58 East.



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