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A CurtainUp Review

I just can't believe that my hero is recovering in my very own home. The man who gave the world Misery Chastain. And here he is: Paul Sheldon himself!
— Annie Wilkes, to the writer whose car crashed at the bottom of a hill outside her home in Silver Creek, Colorado.
Laurie Metcalf and Bruce Willis (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Talk about a story with legs. Misery, Stephen King's creepy cautionary tale for any author yearning for legions of devoted fans is still one of his most popular novels. With a script by William Goldman it transitioned from page to screen in 1990. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes, the "number one fan" of Paul Sheldon whose popular potboilers about a character named Misery Chastain she's read so often that she knows them by heart.

Annie was not only Sheldon's number one fan, but the movie's number one role, though Caan did well as the Number Two character. Bates's demented and yet darkly funny performance became one of those roles so inseparable from her that if anyone says "Misery," someone else is sure to pop up with "Kathy Bates.

With William Goldman again on board as playwright, Misery is now seeking yet another life on Broadway. It will no doubt attract the readers who've kept the book in print and made the screen adaptation a cult hit. However, what they'll find at the Broadhurst theater is more comic than chilling and suspenseful. But then that's one way to to keep the ghosts of the original Annie Wilkes and Paul Sheldon, especially Bates's Annie, from haunting the current actors.

Just in case you're not amongst those familiar with every twist and turn of plot, here's a brief summary: A nurse, mysteriously unemployed, rescues an author who she obsessively admires when his car crashes at the foot of her isolated hillside house. When she discovers that the manuscript of the novel ends with her beloved Misery's death she's infuriated. She forces him to destroy it and write another which will restore her too life. A deadly cat and mouse game ensues.

While the familiar plot is pretty much intact, the current permutation puts a lot more emphasis on the always present dark humor. Laurie Metcalf turns out to be an inspired casting choice. She's been a standout in both comic and serious roles (most ecently in The Other Place). Her not looking the least like Bates immediately signals that this isn't going to be an attempt play Annie-à-la Bates. Metcalf has indeed put her own stamp on the wacky nurse. She's wonderfully weird though, probably because this Misery runs just 90 minutes, the details of her psychotic past have gone missing.

Having movie and tv star Bruce Willis on board to play the hapless author expands the audience to include another huge fan base. Willis isn't as compelling as Metcalf. Still his experience with characters like Detective John McClane in Die Hard serve him well in making the most of his number two role.

Though essentially a 2-character play, there is a third character, the understandably suspicious local sheriff. It's a minor part but Leon Addison Brown does his best to make a strong impression the few times he does appear.
As for the play's current focus, it's probably the only way to make a pop culture icon like this to work on Broadway. The way the audience greets Annie's opening and repeated declarations about being Paul's number one fan reinforces director Will Fears decision to take advantage of all opportunities to pump up the laughter. The resulting part thriller, part comic parody has just one or two really tense scenes but it's amusing to have you giggling at even Annie's most bizarre actions.

The production values are good enough to overcome purist objections about the comedic angle being overdone. David Korin's stunning and terrifically detailed turntable set takes us in and out of Annie's secluded home in Silver Creek, Colorado. David Weiner's lighting evokes the passing of time. Darron L. West's sound design and Michael Friedman's incidental music intensify and enhance the genuinely suspenseful moments and costumer Ann Roth and Wig designer Luc Verschueren make the attractive Ms. Metcalf look convincingly plain.

Misery is not high art. But then it never was.

Playwright: William Goldman, based on Stephen King's book
Directed By Will Frears
Cast: Laurie Metcalf (Annie Wilkes), Bruce Willis (Paul Sheldon), Leon Addison Brown (Buster)
Scenic Design: David Korins
Costume Design: Ann Roth Lighting Design: David Weiner
Sound Design: Darron West
Original Music: Michael Friedman
Hair & Makeup Design: Campbell Young Associates
Special Effects Design: Gregory Meeh
Fight Directors: Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet
Stage Manager: Chris DeCamillis
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, no intermission
Tuesday - Saturday @8pm, Wednesday & Saturday @2pm, Sunday @3pm
From 10/22/15; opening 11/15/15; closing 2/14/16
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 11/16 press matinee
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