'Misery' is creepy delight at Warner
By Joanne Greco Rochman REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
4 Stars (out of a possible 5)
You've read the book, seen the movie, and now here's the play. "Misery," based on the book by Stephen King and adapted for stage by Simon Moore, is on stage at the Warner's Nancy Marine Studio Theatre.
Since the play does not follow the action in the book or movie exactly, there's enough here to keep the audience members on the edge of their seats. Of course, since the audience is only a few feet away from the live action, the experience is less dependent on the vividness of imagination or as safely distant as a one-dimensional film.
Under the careful watch of director Janice Luise-Lutkus, all the nerve-wracking tension of what Annie Wilkes (played by Lucia Dressel) will do to novelist Paul Sheldon (Daniel Willey) reaches unbearable heights. In a struggle for power between a man and a woman, a reader and a writer, predator and prey, the tables are continually changing. Balancing the male physical advantage, Paul is incapacitated because while driving drunk on a snowy night, he drives off the road and crashes. Essentially, he is pulled from the wreck by a former nurse, Annie, who is big enough to appear to be as strong as an ox.
Lucia Dressel as the psychotic nurse has moments of pure inspiration as she moves in and out from being Paul Sheldon's number one fan to swooning over the life of Misery Chastaine, the character Paul created in a romance novel. That's when the audience knows that Annie lives vicariously through the character's life and is out of touch with reality. Dressel, however, is thoroughly in touch with Annie as she rages, gets playful, or terrorizes. At her best when she torments her victim, this is one crazy lady no writer wants in his fan club.
Daniel Willey as Paul Sheldon has his work cut out for him. Playing a role that requires staying in bed throughout much of the play demands a lot from an actor, and Willey delivers. Believable facial expressions underline every stab of pain, every dash of hope, and every groan. When Annie forces him to drink his pain killers with dirty water, he cringes, gags and swallows hard. When she chops off his foot, he howls in agony.
Special effects including televised video clips, tension-filled music, and realistic ghastly make-up work well. There were a few problems with the set and props on opening night. A wobbly telephone table fell over and everything on it fell on the floor. Because of the fast pace of the show, even though Willey is quite adept at maneuvering Paul's wheelchair, he kept picking up the items off the floor, but couldn't keep them on the table. Unfortunately, this negates a line spoken shortly afterwards, when Annie tells Paul that she planted strains of hair at strategic locations so she would know if he got out of his room. One of the locations was the telephone table.
There were other mishaps that will be fixed by the next showing. Despite the occasional slip up, the performances in this community theater production are darn good and the intimacy of the stage makes this a good selection for the Warner's black box theater.
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