“Nothin’ bad can happen to you now, not with Annie here. I’m your number one fan.” So opens the dramatic thriller ‘MISERY‘ at Great Lakes Theater, now playing at the Hanna Theatre through March 11, 2018.
But bad things do happen to famous romance writer Paul Sheldon, as he wakes in the home of Annie Wilkes broken, bruised and discombobulated. Based on the Stephen King novel and written for the stage by William Goldman, this Charles Fee directed piece evokes deep feelings of creep from the moment Paul (played by Andrew May) comes to after a traumatic car accident.
“Dying men rarely scream, they don’t have the energy for it,” says Annie (played by Kathleen Pirkl Tague), explaining to Paul how he screamed while he was unconscious during the four days after his car crash. A former nurse, Annie tends to his wounds and doles out stolen pain meds in a timely manner as she helps him piece together what brought him to her home. Unfortunately, the weather has closed the roads and she’s unable to get him to a hospital or call for help. So Paul is SO LUCKY that she is the one that found him! He should be so grateful to her!
But there’s something “off” about Annie. We discover that she’s a little too into author Paul’s most famous serial work – the Misery books, a series following the Victorian-era loves and losses of the fictitious Misery Chastain. Paul’s eight books that span 20 years of his career have captivated Annie for her whole life, and she’s very vocal in reminding him that she’s his “number one Fan.”
Annie also discovers a new manuscript in Paul’s bag, and is appalled by his new writing direction – her critique of the new subject matter and foul language is hilarious… until she freaks out about it. Why doesn’t he write more about her precious Misery? Why is every other word “eff” this and “eff” that?
But that’s not the only thing that keeps her strange behavior moving into new depths. While Paul is in recovery, his ninth Misery book hits shelves. Annie is ecstatic to read it… until it’s revealed that Paul has killed off the main character. This brings out the “batshitcrazy” in Annie. After a meltdown, she brings him a typewriter and paper, demanding that he write Misery back to life… or else.
Withholding pain medication, strapping him down, making him drink dirty water, and keeping him locked in a tiny room: Annie makes Paul endure these and many other torments during his weeks in Silver Creek, Colorado. With no way out or any contact to the outside world, Paul grows more and more desperate to escape.
Paul plays a cat-and-mouse with Annie during his time there. He tries to flatter her, he tries to trick her, he finds ways to sneak out of the locked room when she goes into town, he even tries to poison her and to stab her at various points… all to no avail. She has complete control over his broken body, and the back and forth between them is horrifically delicious.
Director Charles Fee has woven a wonderfully wicked production. The sense of expectancy and dread comes on slowly, but is ever-present from the beginning of the play. The overarching feeling of anxiety follows the entire performance, sometimes manifesting as revulsion, pity, fear, panic, plotting, and slow-moving terror.
The veteran actors give haunting performances. May creates a consummate victim, with shattered bones and an intact sense of his precarious position – he is trapped. Pirkl Tague plays a perfectly wrecked woman, with layers of seeming-normality wrapped up into a vortex of psychological wackadoodle.
Although the stage character of Annie is not as vicious as in the novel version, she is still clearly someone with plenty of deep-seated “issues.” She is like a malevolent puppet master pulling the frayed strings of a broken doll, and the audience is just waiting for the doll to fight back. The suspense created by the actors is a beautiful creep show.
The play differs slightly from the book in a few ways. Annie’s backstory of blackouts and possible previous victims has been left out. There’s also the “hobbling” scene – in the book, Annie actually chops off Paul’s foot with an axe and cauterizes it with a blowtorch. This is different than the horrifying whacks to the ankles that she delivers in the play version. Regardless – things just don’t bode well for poor Paul.
The production is wrapped up in technical aspects that create the perfect place to hold a hostage. Gage Williams’ scenic design brings the audience to a dilapidated house in the woods. The details of the set are engaging from the trees on the perimeter and smoke rising from the chimney, down to the last wood slat in the rustic interior.
Paul Miller’s lighting design keeps the action foreshadowed and cryptic, while Josh Schmidt’s sound design adds all of the anticipatory nuances from thunder and typing, to alarms and creepy underscores.
Kudos to Alex Jaeger for costumes and Jason Tate for movement and special effects, as the combination of costumes with medical bandaging and makeup make Paul’s injuries painfully believable.
Although a little more than smoke and red lights would’ve been interesting for the multiple fires that are “set” during the story, there is the need to recognize the shock value created for the shotgun scene – so (without giving anything away) congrats to the effects team on that surprise moment.
Overall ‘MISERY’ is an engaging mystery chiller that is well-done and worth the watch. Although not as pure evil as the book, this stage version is a hair-raising ride for everyone, regardless of whether audience members are familiar with the Stephen King storyline or not.
‘MISERY’ plays the Hanna Theatre now through March 11, 2018. Tickets can be purchased through Playhouse Square by calling 216-241-6000 or by visiting www.greatlakestheater.org. Prices range from $15 – $80, with Students at $13.