While I’m not a frequent theater-goer, tell me you’re adapting a Stephen King property, and you’ve got my attention. Misery, which many of you movie lovers know as a work of obsessive art starring James Caan and Kathy Bates, has found itself a home on Broadway for the foreseeable future – which works in the strangest of ways. King’s source is loaded with crazed, domesticated tension, which Rob Reiner was able to blend with a subdued sense of humor, but Will Frears’ theatrical adaptation expands upon the dark comedy of Paul Sheldon’s imprisonment. Scares don’t translate easily to stage, and thankfully Misery isn’t a rigid adaptation, because it actually ADAPTS.
Misery boils everything down to three characters – Paul Sheldon (Bruce Willis), Annie Wilkes (Laurie Metcalf), and Sheriff Buster (Leon Addison Brown). Sheldon is a famous author who has an accident during a Colorado blizzard, Annie is his lucky savior/obsessive fan, and Buster is the local law enforcement who occasionally comes knocking. The trio play out a cat-and-mouse game on many psychological levels, but most of their interactions are fun and provocative. Every pivotal point is recreated on stage, from Paul’s writing to Annie’s hobbling methods, and King’s story is done right by the creative team involved thanks to the inclusion of original screenplay writer William Goldman.
I mentioned comedy before because you’ll find yourself laughing at Misery, and that’s OK. During their performance, the cast earned hearty laughs, like when Bruce Willis accidentally stood his wheelchair up on accident, but he was able to work with Laurie Metcalf to right the situation and move forward without disaster (a reassuring sign that both actors are seasoned professionals) – but real laughs exist appropriately, as well. Kathy Bates was able to earn chills given her dead-cold stare, but Metcalf doesn’t have the same advantages on stage. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to matter much, as Annie’s insanity is met with snide remarks from Paul that are laced with sarcastic bite in the form of entertaining jests, along with Annie’s own obsessive lovability. For Misery to succeed, this is how it has to exist – light on horror, and heavy on charisma.
Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf are both integral to Misery, but one talent ends up overshadowing the other. It’s not a situation of “good vs. bad,” but instead “good vs. better,” as Metcalf finds herself exploding with fanatical ferocity. Willis is restricted to a bed or wheelchair most of the play, and it’s Metcalf’s job to keep the audience intrigued – something she does rather well. Hiccups aside (a line here or there/awkward stunt placement), Metcalf brings Annie’s character to life through wide eyes, bewitching praise, psychological torture, and a twisted reality that makes Misery the horrific tale we’ve come to know and love. Metcalf is dynamite, as she projects her “number one fan” status with every crazy-eyed glare.
That’s not to say Willis wastes his moments, because he certainly doesn’t. We feel the pain of Paul Sheldon, as told by the numerous winces and groans coming from the audience members around me. Again, pointing to Paul’s “hobbling” scene, even though most seemed to know the sledge-hammer-justice coming their way, viewers were gasping with each swing of Annie’s weapon. Willis’ cries fill the far-reaches of Broadhurst theater, and his paranoia can be felt from mere reactions to bedside threats. It’s nice to see actors stretching their muscles every now and then, and Misery gives Willis exactly that opportunity.
The production itself implements many tricks, none more impressive than four-sectioned rotating stage. As Willis wheels around different rooms in Annie’s house, the setting rotates slowly to capture his every move. Most of Misery takes place takes place in Paul’s guest room, but we also find ourselves spending time in Annie’s kitchen, while passing through her hallway and front entrance as well. Kudos to Willis for wheeling himself through each doorway as the stage quickly shifts, and even more praise is paid towards a crew that’s on-point with each cue, sound blast (guns/whacks), and setting swap. This is a multi-dimensional production on many levels, each of which reveal a new atmosphere.
Don’t be left out in the cold – catch Misery while you can for a unique storytelling experience. It’s not a perfect adaptation, and there are a few kinks I do believe both Willis and Metcalf will work out, but it’s something unique that can bring genre lovers into a theater. Stephen King fans will be treated to a new interpretation of yet another classic tale of terrifying intrigue, while new viewers will find themselves in for an equal treat. It’s not the Misery you know, but it’s a Misery you’ll enjoy nonetheless. Come for the frosty nightmare, stay for Metcalf’s commanding dominance, and enjoy a brand new take on a storied horror property. You’ve seen it on the screen – now see it in person!