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Classic comedy courtesy Shakespeare, auditions for The Miracle Worker

by Mark Burger

William Shakespeare’s always in season as far as I’m concerned (just check out my DVD column this week), and this Thursday night National Theatre Live presents a special screening of the Bard’s classic farce The Comedy of Errors at the Regal Greensboro Grande Stadium 16 (3205 Northline Ave., Greensboro), located in the Friendly Center.

One of Shakespeare’s earliest and most lighthearted plays, The Comedy of Errors lives up to that quintessential title with great irreverence and aplomb, as two sets of twins arrive simultaneously in the same city without ever meeting, causing a series of mistaken identities and comic calamities.

This production, which is played in modern dress, is directed by Dominic Cooke and stars popular actor and funnyman Lenny Henry, praised as “wonderfully funny” by the Independent, making his National Theatre debut.

Hailed by the Daily Mail as “wall-to-wall joy” and as “a comic delight” by The Daily Telegraph, this is a rare treat for Shakespeare aficionados and fans of British theater. The production will be screened in more than 300 cinemas around the nation, the latest in a series of one-night-only screenings that have become very popular recently, as witness the success of An Evening with Kevin Smith, Leonardo Live! and others.

In fact, National Theatre Live is scheduled to present Jamie Lloyd’s critically acclaimed production of the classic Oliver Goldsmith comedy She Stoops to Conquer on March 29.

Showtime for The Comedy of Errors is 8 p.m. and tickets are $20 each.

For more information about the series, visit www.ntlive.com or www.fathomevents.com/performingarts/series/ ntlive.aspx. Advance tickets can also be ordered through www. fandango.com.

The Stained Glass Playhouse will close out its 30th season with its production of William Gibson’s fact-based, awardwinning drama The Miracle Worker, which is scheduled to open Friday, May 4, under the direction of Steffanie Vaughan.

For those aspiring or established area thespians, the Stained Glass Playhouse will be holding auditions for the play at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 18, and 7 p.m. Monday, March 19 at the Playhouse, 4401 Indiana Ave., Winston-Salem.

The story of The Miracle Worker is an inspiring and remarkable one, recounting the relationship between the young Helen Keller, afflicted with blindness and deafness after an illness in her infancy. Her family has coddled and spoiled her to such an extent that she has no discipline and is almost a feral child. In desperation, her parents seek the services of teacher and mentor Annie Sullivan, who is herself blind, but who refuses to allow her affliction to dominate her life. The relationship between Annie and Helen begins explosively, with the two locked in a volatile battle of wills. But Annie’s patience and perseverance eventually win out, as she guides Helen to overcome her handicaps and lead as normal a life as possible.

The Miracle Worker, which is based on Keller’s autobiography The Story of My Life, was first dramatized in a live television performance on “Playhouse 90” in 1957. Critical response was so overwhelming that Gibson adapted his text for the stage. The original Broadway production, directed by Arthur Penn, opened in 1959 and was an immediate success, garnering Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Direction, Best Stage Technician and Best Actress for Anne Bancroft (who played Sullivan), and launching the career of Patty Duke, who played Helen. The subsequent 1961 screen version, also directed by Penn, won Academy Awards for Bancroft (Best Actress) and Duke (Best Supporting Actress, in her screen debut), with additional nominations for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Costume Design (black and white). Duke would later play Annie Sullivan in a 1979 made-for-TV remake opposite Melissa Gilbert as Helen. Duke would win an Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Special, Gilbert a nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Special, and the film itself won Outstanding Drama or Comedy Special.

Needless to say, The Miracle Worker is heavy-duty drama requiring intense and focused performances from its cast members.

Among the roles be cast are: a doctor (any age adult), Helen’s mother Kate Keller (age 20s-30s), Helen’s father Capt. Arthur Keller (age 40s-60s), Helen herself (pre-teen to adolescent), Helen’s playmate Percy (pre-teen to adolescent), Helen’s Aunt Ev (middle-aged), Helen’s older brother James (late teens-early 20s), Anagnos (head of the Perkins Institute where Annie grew up, age 40s-70s), Annie Sullivan (20’s), the servant Viney (indeterminate age), six blind girls (pre-teen to adolescent), a servant (indeterminate age), and offscreen voices.

For more information, call 336.661.4949.

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