Cast of 'Miracles' shines

Sunday, March 2, 2003

A small but entertained crowd witnessed the phenomenon of Kansas City playwright Frank Higgins' "Miracles" on Friday at the Lawrence Community Theatre.

The play's action takes place in a private institution for children in The Berkshires, where Eve (Tina Connolly) is a 17-year-old autistic student in Kate Kingsly's (Jeanne Chinn) classroom of one. Using a controversial teaching method called facilitated communication, Kate has helped Eve "write" a book of poetry, which Kate believes Eve wants to publish. But because she's only 17, she needs permission from her father, Tom Hudson (Forrest Lowry).

Though Tom is skeptical as to whether his daughter really wrote the poems -- after all, she can't even speak -- the dramatic roller coaster that is "Miracles" makes a believer out of him and possibly the audience.

The small cast does a miraculous job of being mildly comical throughout the serious play. A few candid interludes between Eve and her father are confusing at first, but it soon becomes clear that they are meant to be fantasy sequences. The first time Eve and her father "talk," Tom pretends his daughter is normal and can have an actual conversation. Though he is a busy lawyer who hasn't bothered to visit his daughter in two years, she forgives him and jokes about why he would be a good husband (because he makes a lot of money and is never home).

Lowry's performance as Tom is a far cry from his last Lawrence Community Theatre role, the comical Vic Johnson in "Funny Money." He shows his versatility by slipping comfortably into the shoes of the more serious character.

The chemistry between Connolly and Lowry is good, but sometimes a little over the top. Watching Tom and Eve interact, it's sometimes easy to forget he is really an angry man who blames God for his wife's death to cancer and his daughter's autism.

Chinn delivers a moving performance as Kate. Teaching a child with autism is tough enough, but Kate also must face the fact that Eve is not only her student, but also her best friend. Kate has invested her life in helping Eve realize her potential, and when Tom tries to take that away, she is willing to protect Eve as though she were her own daughter.

Tina Connolly is amazing. Period. She brings wonderful energy to the stage and plays an emotionally and physically demanding part with a tenacity and confidence that sets her apart from the other cast members. It's obvious she did her homework in preparation for playing a young autistic woman.

"Miracles" is not just about developing relationships, but also about believing in people and having faith that you'll find a miracle along the way.

"Miracles" runs through March 16. For tickets, call 843-SHOW.

-- Meredith Carr is a Kansas University journalism student.