There's always a danger of toppling into sentimentality when retelling a story as uplifting and inspirational as the saga of blind, deaf and dumb Helen Keller and her tough, determined teacher, Annie Sullivan. Playwright William Gibson avoids that pitfall by emphasizing the humor in the situation, the stubborn cantankerousness of Sullivan (Tara Battani) and the animal desperation of the child Helen (Danielle Soibelman). These actors bring visceral intensity to the battle of wits and will that erupts when Sullivan attempts to civilize the wild child, culminating in the ferocious battle over the breakfast table. Silverware flies and crockery smashes as Sullivan fights to reach the isolated girl with nothing more than physical restraint and the sense of touch. Sullivan's struggle is even harder because she also must fend off interference from an over-indulgent mother (Catherine Gray), a willful, blustering father and a cynical, doubting brother (Tony Christopher). There's occasional awkwardness in the production, due to the difficulty of shoehorning a large, multiscene production onto a small arena stage, but director Thom Babbes elicits fine performances from the five principals. Designer Mark Svastics provides the handsome, flexible sets. Crossley Theatre at Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. (added perfs Sat., April 20 & May 18, 2:30 p.m.); through May 19. (323) 462-8460, ext. 300,

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., April 20, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., May 18, 2:30 p.m. Starts: April 12. Continues through May 26, 2013

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.