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Misery review Broadway


                                                    by Eugene Paul



Director 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).


Annie (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 thrills.


Which 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.


We 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.


Well, 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.



When 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.