In previous stage productions, fourth-grader Hannah Dehlin and one-year-older Hannah Earl have played such roles as The Cat in the Hat in "Seussical, the Musical," precocious Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird," Farina in "The Little Rascals" and Gretl in "The Sound of Music."

Now, sharing the challenging role of young Helen Keller in Hale Centre Theatre's production of "The Miracle Worker," they must convince audiences that Helen is blind and deaf, relying solely on her senses of feeling and smell in order to make her way through her dark, silent environment.

Hannah Dehlin (pronounced deh-lynn) said by phone from her home in Alpine that "it's hard being blind and deaf at the same time. You can't look at people at all."

She performed in "Seussical," "The Little Rascals" and "The Glass Slipper" in Redmond, Wash., before moving about a year ago to Alpine, where she was in the ensemble for "Miracle on 34th Street."

Hannah Earl, who played Scout in Hale Centre Theatre's "To Kill a Mockingbird," said the role of Helen is much different from that. "I've been in lots of shows and they've all been fun, but they were never this challenging," said the Park View Elementary School fifth-grader.

"During one rehearsal," Hannah Earl said, "we were blindfolded and I found out that you can't just pretend to be blind. I have to think about what Helen Keller went through."

With both Hannahs rehearsing at the same time, Hannah Earl said that the other Hannah is going by her nickname, "Lou."

Jennie Whitlock, who plays opposite Hannah Dehlin as tutor Annie Sullivan, has been seen recently in roles that are at completely different ends of the scale — ranging from the lovable fairy godmother in "Slipper and the Rose" to Mrs. Potts in "Beauty and the Beast" to the grating Lina Lamont in "Singing in the Rain" to the villainous Julia Farnsworth in "Heaven Can Wait."

"A lot of actors get thrown into the same types of roles all the time," she said, "but I haven't had a lead role in a dramatic play in years."

Whitlock is also enjoying working with the director, John Adams, and is thrilled with the people in both casts. "We've had some exercises where the girls playing Helen are blindfolded to help them realize what it was like in Helen Keller's life when she was young."

Shanna Jones, who works as a nanny when she's not acting, is cast as Sullivan in the alternate cast. She said this drama "has so much to teach about overcoming huge obstacles and challenging what is 'normal.' "

While he's getting his two ensembles ready for their respective opening nights, director John Adams is confronting the logistics involved with Hale Center Theatre removing the complicated scenery and props for "Aida" and moving "The Miracle Worker" into the theater for only two days of onstage rehearsals before opening on Friday night.

Adams, who is about to retire from 30 years of teaching theater at Albion Middle School, said the experience of playing Helen Keller has been "quite a learning experience" for both Hannahs.

"I think what had a lot to do with HCT choosing 'Miracle Worker' was that Keller's story is studied a lot in school," said Adams, "but as much as they're reading it, the play is not being done that often. The last time it was done by Hale was 13 years ago in their old South Salt Lake theater."

Adams is adding a few bits of voice-over narration taken directly from what Keller wrote in her biography, "The Story of My Life," when she was only 20.

While the play itself focuses on young Helen uttering "wah-wah" when she discovers water in a backyard pump at the very end of the play — Adams said the beauty of Keller's story is that she eventually learned how to write very well, and it should be an inspiration for the rest of us to push a little harder. "And we don't have the handicaps she did."

The brief narration will be accompanied by overhead projections of Keller at various stages in her remarkable life.

If you go

What: "The Miracle Worker"

Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City

When: Friday through June 3

How much: $12-$21

Phone: 984-9000

Web site: www.halecentretheatre.org


E-mail: ivan@desnews.com