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Misery - Elizabeth Ahlfors

Misery - Laurie Metcalf as Annie Wilkes and Bruce Willis as Paul Sheldon. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2015.
Misery - Laurie Metcalf as Annie Wilkes and Bruce Willis as Paul Sheldon. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2015.

Broadhurst Theatre
234 - West 45th Street 
Previews: Oct. 22, 2015   From 10/22/15; opening 11/15/15; closing 2/14/16
Opening: Nov. 15, 2015; Closing Feb. 14, 2016
One hour, 30 min.  No intermission
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

"God I love you," says Annie Wilkes after she whacks Paul Sheldon's ankles with a sledgehammer.  

Misery, the Stephen King page-turner and the 1990 thriller starring James Caan and Kathy Bates, has come to Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre with noticeably less chills, thrills and tension yet it offers enjoyable moments of black humor.  

King's book, adapted for film stage by William Goldman, finds best-selling Gothic romance novelist, Paul Sheldon (Bruce Willis) lying in a strange bedroom, obviously badly injured and in great pain.  Four days ago, he was rescued by Annie Wilkes, a local resident after his car crashed during a severe Colorado storm.  In a striking performance by Laurie Metcalf, Wilkes is a former nurse who spotted Sheldon, put him in her truck and brought him home.  He wakes up in Wilke's guest bedroom and since all roads are blocked, he is completely in her care.  

"I am your biggest fan," she tells him.  She has read all his books but, as it turns out, despite his Good Samaritan's admiration and even more important, her apparent nursing experience, her evident drug supply, and her rural know-how, luck is not really on Paul Sheldon's side.  Annie wants something in return.  She is obsessively connected to Misery Chastain, the lead character of Sheldon's vastly popular romance series.  When he reveals he is turning to new subjects and in his last book, just published, he has killed off Misery Chastain, Annie Wilkes is livid.  She demands he write another book reviving the character and after he does this, she plans to kill him.

Unfortunately, in his Broadway debut, Misery does not seem to be the best vehicle for Bruce Willis who does little to show Sheldon's fear, even panic, as he realizes that his rescuer is a whackadoo.  Given that he is bedridden and later wheelchair-bound, and agreeing that he is taking a generous amount of pain medication, the truth remains that Willis is performing in movie or Moonlighting mode.  He is laid-back, somewhat sardonic and uninvolved and director Will Frears lets him stay at this cool temperature.  Misery lacks what a thriller needs, tension.  

Suspense comes from Metcalf's portrayal of the mercurially inconsistent Annie Wilkes.  What will be Wilkes' mood today?  What is pathologically wrong with her?  We don't learn details about Wilkes' psychological problems but Metcalf forms a definitive characterization, not a replay of Kathy Bates' Academy Award film rendition but a layered study of an unbalanced recluse evoking horror along with sympathy and humor.  A third character appears intermittently, the sheriff, Buster, who is played by Leon Addison Brown.
King's book built the ladder of cat-and-mouse attacks and Will Frears directs the play with an eye for the moments of dark humor.  The spirit of Wilkes is apparent throughout the production including David Korin's turntable set that details the house.  The kitchen set, wildly messy or relatively tidy, offers a clue to Wilkes' current mind set and David Weiner's lighting and sounds by Darron L West add to the book's creep factor, helped by incidental music by Michael Friedman.  

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