by Eugene Paul
Will Frears, knowing that he has William Goldman’s tested and true services
having successfully adapted the Stephen King flavorsome little horror epic,
“Misery” to the screen as his basis for this, his stage adaptation, is still
not resting easy having as his leads two of the biggest draws in the big box
and the littler box, Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf, respectively, as they
stretch their legs so to speak -- where else? – on Broadway. He’s got to
reach for chills and thrills wherever he can in the physical restrictions of
the theater and thus gives his set designer, David Korins, and his lighting
designer, David Weiner, full leeway to participate as actors in the
production. Which translates into Annie’s weather beaten house somewhere near
Silver Creek, Colorado, the stage as well as the prison for famed author Paul
Sheldon (magnetic Bruce Willis).
(protean Laurie Metcalf) has found complete fulfillment of life, work and
passion in possessing adored Paul Sheldon as her infinite prize. She’s a nurse,
she can care for Paul’s broken legs, his dislocated shoulder, all the cuts and
bruises and slashes that Paul has suffered in a car crash near her isolated
house. And she was the first on the scene. She found him. So, why not take
him home to her house – Paul Sheldon in her house! – where she can care for
him, night and day, round the clock, instead of to a hospital? And find out
more about her favorite character, Misery Chastain, the heroine she’s followed
through every one of the nine books Paul – yes, it’s Paul, not Mr. Sheldon,
shiver, shiver – has written and already at work at the next one? And she,
alone in this world to know what will transpire in Misery’s life? Oh, rosy
could all be benign, even lovely. Of course, we know better. This is Stephen
King, for crying out loud. And this is a stage version of a quaking, searing
horror movie with performances by James Caan and Kathy Bates that still
reverberates. So we know what crazy Annie did to helpless Paul in that movie.
Then, what are director Will Frears and playwright William Goldman going to do
to keep those seats filled with sensation seeking bottoms? Everything possible.
An absorbingly sinister setting which David Korins has created plays a large
role, larger than in the film. And David Weiner’s eerily atmospheric
choreography of light and shadow works as much magic as they can. Still
leaving the main work to Willis and Metcalf as should be. We know that Willis,
as Paul Sheldon, is crippled, helpless and in pain. And in bed. And isolated.
No one knows where he is. Cell phones are in the future -- it’s 1987 –- and
Annie is certifiable. Okay, same great set up.
vividly remember Kathy Bates as Annie. Won an Oscar. Laurie Metcalf’s Annie
is a different creature, a sixty year old arrested child with uncontrollable
swings of emotion, a lonely farm girl who lives in her imagination. She’s
strong, she has to be, all those farm chores and nursing chores. And she’s
totally amoral, as she has to be to live in two worlds, this existence and that
other world where she’s, she’s lovely, and graceful, and desired. She walks
sturdily. But gracefully as she can. She moves purposefully. But gracefully
as a heroine. And there isn’t a gray hair in the long, heavy mass of hair on
her head. She’s her own heroine in her own visions. And that’s why she loves
Misery Chastain who is so much like her. And of course she reacts vehemently,
violently, when Paul – her Paul! –tells her in this new book he’s writing that
he is killing off Misery. He must not do that. He has to re-write. He has
to. She destroys the abominable pages.
nobody tells sophisticated, literary star Paul Sheldon what to do, especially
with his own work, unless she controls his body’s very recovery. Unless, in
fact, she controls whether he lives or dies. And here, director Frears and
playwright Goldman run into their biggest problems: how to spin out their tale
with an audience in the know and staging restricted by the very circumstances:
a crippled man in a bed versus a deranged creature who will do anything to get
her own way? We almost sympathize with their dilemma. Goldman does what he has
to do: follow the book. And Frears has to get his actors and his set and his
lights to hold our attention. He just manages, thanks to Willis. Willis, physically
restricted, has still to command the stage. And he does.
Paul realizes he has underestimated her cunning, her ferocity, it’s too late.
She is perfectly aware of how much recovery he’s made in the months in her
house and she knows what she has to do to make him see that she’s determined
to keep Misery alive. When she approaches his nearly healed legs with a sledge
hammer, he’s terrified. And, yes, she cripples him. We all remember the
horrific scene in the movie. On the stage it’s worse. It’s what everybody’s
been waiting for. They’ve gotten their money’s worth. And the lines after the
show at the stage door are traffic snarling. Couldn’t ask for more.
Misery. At the Broadhurst
Theatre, 235 West 44th Street. Tickets: $69-$169. 212-239-6200. 90
min. Thru Feb 14, 2016.