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Dan Savage Turns Helen Keller Into 'Raunchy Drag Burlesque'


Reporter Misha Berson got to see Miracle!, Dan Savage's take on the classic Miracle Worker story of how Helen Keller, born blind, deaf and dumb, learned to communicate with the outside world.

Here's a portion of Berson's Seattle Times review:

Awash in Keller jokes, gritty repartee and sexually graphic (though clothed and wigged) routines, Miracle! is rather like a naughty kid trying to get a rise out of his uptight parents.

Yet it's also a messy, nostalgic paean to the old-school cabaret drag where male entertainers are padded, dolled up and spangly-gowned (by the laudable Erik Andor) to glam, snipe, bond and lip-sync to the Andrews Sisters and Gloria Gaynor.

Director-writer Savage, noted author and gay activist, twists the saga of the untamed, disabled Keller and devoted teacher Annie Sullivan into the taming of a deaf, blind and mute drag prodigy, Helen Stellar (Jonathon Pyburn), by butch therapist Annie (a strong Hannah Victoria Franklin).

The more ludicrous gags, as when little Helen stumbles and bellows in her pathetic act, score big laughs — and big winces. And some bits (undescribable here) are just gross-outs.

Berson also notes that a sign outside Miracle! both warns and boasts that the show includes "disgusting language," "simulated sex acts" and "vulgar, nasty jokes," all of which can make some pretty great theater.

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  1. You're probably going to get a ton of email and comments over this...

    "Helen Keller, born blind, deaf and dumb,..."

    I believe you mean mute, not dumb, and your deaf readers are going to probably be all over you about this in 3... 2... 1... :)

    Posted by: Dale | Jul 19, 2012 9:33:33 AM

  2. Wow! I think I have a lot better ways to spend my entertainment dollar. I've always found Savage to be clever; This show, not so much.

    Posted by: KJ | Jul 19, 2012 9:42:05 AM

  3. You're also going to get slammed about "born". Keller contracted some illness (speculation is scarlet fever or meningitis) at 19 months old that rendered her deaf and blind. Technically she was not mute. However, since she stopped hearing before she was able to talk, she never developed spoken language skills.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Jul 19, 2012 9:49:07 AM

  4. The word is "indescribable", Miss Journalist. I think someone is trying to out do Trey Parker and Matt Stone. When they draw Martha Stewart queefing out glitter on South Park, at least it can be described.

    Posted by: MarkUs | Jul 19, 2012 9:53:53 AM

  5. Tasteless. Like I would expect anything else from Savage.

    Posted by: hashfag | Jul 19, 2012 9:59:00 AM

  6. I would definitely see this, but then again I have absolutely no political correctness gene to ruin my sense of humor. Ill leave it to the flaming liberals to do that.

    Posted by: DrJWL | Jul 19, 2012 10:02:11 AM

  7. Uh, Andrew Belonsky? "Dumb?" That's ignorant.

    Posted by: djork | Jul 19, 2012 10:26:18 AM

  8. I agree with DRJWL. Liberals have some level of decency that conservatives could never comprehend. :)

    Posted by: TishaFromDallas | Jul 19, 2012 10:27:04 AM

  9. It's been said already, but it can never be enough. Deaf-Blind (and Deaf) people are not dumb and "mute" is offensive to tack on as well. For a member of a community that is so often victimized and mischaracterized that chides the ignorant, this is pretty reprehensible (as is Dan Savage's production).

    Posted by: kelehe | Jul 19, 2012 10:36:43 AM

  10. Sad..very sad..Dan we expect more out of you and now you will only give the right more ammunition against you...you have lost my respect . I'm a gay man who thought the world of you and your " it gets better" campaign.

    Posted by: Mark | Jul 19, 2012 10:38:05 AM

  11. This is something to be proud of?

    BTW, "dumb" used to mean unable to speak, not stupid. Not that I favor the word in this context.

    Posted by: Mike Amato | Jul 19, 2012 10:41:57 AM

  12. Tank is a believer in equal rights for all people, and so I have to say that I agree with the people who are saying that this show is offensive to those who face various physical challenges. As gay people we don't like to be ridiculed or treated like trash and so we need to be called out when we do that to others. And I have to say, I am sick to death of stories about drag queens here on Towleroad. Believe it or not, most of us who are gay don't dress up as Ginger Robards or Ingmar Bergman every weekend, and some of us don't even own a single dress! I'd like to see more stories here about macho, he-man gay guys... like yours truly!

    Posted by: TANK | Jul 19, 2012 10:47:01 AM

  13. A cheap stab at incredible life. Nice Dan, how old are you?

    Posted by: Elaine | Jul 19, 2012 10:50:20 AM

  14. "...and some of us don't even own a single dress! I'd like to see more stories here about macho, he-man gay guys... like yours truly!"

    TANK, you need to find Jesus. I'll pray for you...after a few drinks. I promise.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jul 19, 2012 11:01:21 AM

  15. TANK says: "most of us who are gay don't dress up as Ginger Robards or Ingmar Bergman"

    I think you meant "...Ginger Rogers or Ingrid Bergman."

    I can't think of the last time I saw a drag queen dressed up like Ingmar Bergman.

    Or was that a(n unfunny) joke?

    Posted by: Jeff NYC | Jul 19, 2012 11:22:42 AM

  16. Probably not Dan's forte.

    There are many Helen Keller jokes, so I think the "inspiration" for this is obvious.

    Posted by: anon | Jul 19, 2012 11:29:29 AM

  17. To describe someone who cannot speak as "dumb" is not only massively offensive, it's also inaccurate. And, as others have already pointed out, Helen Keller was not born blind or deaf, but instead lost her ability to see and hear as a result of a childhood illness.

    Posted by: Rob | Jul 19, 2012 11:32:12 AM

  18. " rather like a naughty kid trying to get a rise out of his uptight parents."

    That's Dan's career in a nutshell - anything to get attention.

    Posted by: We are Here | Jul 19, 2012 11:36:57 AM

  19. "Dan we expect more out of you"

    I don't know why; he has never been anything but a foul-mouthed, crude, sleezy low-life.

    Posted by: Rick | Jul 19, 2012 11:38:29 AM

  20. I can certainly appreciate some comments made by the readers. I am a DeafBlind individual. I can certainly tell you that "dumb" and "mute" are two of the very offensive terms towards the Deaf community, including us DB folks. If Helen Keller was actually dumb, would she be able to attend Radicliffe back then? If I was actually dumb, would I be able to write this comment. to see how smart is DB folks really are, come and check us out at DBTT.org. You will enjoy the articles. :) Cheers.

    Posted by: Sarah | Jul 19, 2012 12:16:26 PM

  21. Disgusting, vulgar, nasty, ludicrous . . . all spot-on descriptions of Dan Savage himself! Stick a fork in him, he's done.

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Jul 19, 2012 12:29:38 PM

  22. First off: yes, people did used to say "dumb" instead of "mute." I remember it vividly from the ads for the movie "Tommy." People still using it in this context are in error, but not bad people.

    Secondly, as Jonathan pointed out, Keller contracted supposedly scarlet fever just before age 2, and that's what left her blind and deaf. However, as anyone who's seen the play knows, she did have a couple of sounds ("Wa wa" for water) in her vocabulary, and she did learn to speak in her adult life. (If you want to cry a few buckets of tears, track down Mare Winningham in the TV movie "Helen Keller: The Miracle Continues" from the 80's, where Keller gives a speech at the film's climax.)

    As to this production: I've always thought this sort of humor and drag was cheap and easy and unnecessary in its reliance on gross-out tackiness. I don't have a problem with drag, I do have a problem with lowest-common-denominator drag. And not to lecture Dan Savage--whom I adore and think has made the world a much better place, and is generally a very smart man--but surely he must have anticipated how this could boomerang on him? A guy who's told millions of LGBTQ young people "it gets better" now making fun of the handicapped? (And yes, I've heard and laughed at some of the Helen Keller jokes over the years, but I'm not a world-famous journalist with a reputation I'm trying to protect.) Surely he knows that the right-wingers are going to have a field day with this, and it's going to cost him some allies due to its flagrant insensitivity?

    If I was going to write a drag satire, I'd have it focused on Michelle Bachmann or someone else in that vein--someone who is a genuine enemy of our community, and has regularly shown that her "Christianity" is a sham. Satirizing the powerful is essential. Satirizing Helen Keller is just lazy and declasse.

    Posted by: Dback | Jul 19, 2012 12:45:11 PM

  23. Sort of appalled. I have been on the fence about Dan Savage for a long time: appreciative of what he's done for the community at large, but finding him personally offensive and far less tolerant/accepting than his cause. This is offensive on so many levels and beneath the stature of self-appointed leader in a civil rights movement. It's helped me make up my mind. I don't respect or appreciate Dan Savage, though I respect his individual contributions to the movement, and I do not recognize him as a civil rights leader. Because, honestly, he wants equality and respect and understanding for gay men like him, while being discriminatory and or offensive (and accusing the rest of us of being PC) of bisexuals like me, some lesbians, some minorities, and the handicapped (now). Many "gay" jokes that Dan rightly recognizes contribute to a culture that drives young men and women to feel so broken and "other" they want to kill themselves are defended as just being "non-PC" or "funny" or "pushing the envelope," but Dan recognizes that they take away self-worth and esteem from young people facing a culture where they are already outsiders. And yet he mocks, sexually and vulgarly, the greatest inspiration for deaf, blind, etc. youth in American history and challenges us to lighten up and not be so PC. Hypocrisy and blindness. Not worthy of my respect at all.

    Posted by: LuckyLinden | Jul 19, 2012 12:50:42 PM

  24. I left during intermission. Don't get me wrong, I love being offended, but this show was simply unfunny and he lifted material from past artists. I was really looking forward to a walk down memory lane, but "Miracle" is amateurish and vulgar.

    Posted by: JJ | Jul 19, 2012 1:21:40 PM

  25. Edith Prickley did it better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndTJhz1qMRw

    Posted by: ruddigore | Jul 19, 2012 1:22:34 PM

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