Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Nov. 2, 2001
Misery: King OverthrownZachary Scott Theatre Center
Whisenhunt Arena Stage,
through November 26
Running Time: 1 hr, 25 min
I'm one of the original fans of Stephen King. I got Carrie in its first printing. I remember reading Salem's Lot in '76 as my family moved during a snowstorm from Connecticut to Maine. I remember reading The Dead Zone and thinking it was one of the best horror books of all time as well as a great human drama (and an underrated film with Christopher Walken). I've read The Stand three times -- the uncut version twice. While I can't stand the Dark Tower books, there aren't any other King books that I don't like. Other favorites: Thinner, Needful Things, Insomnia, and Misery.
I had high hopes for this Zachary Scott Theatre Center production, but almost none of them panned out. For those who don't know the story, romance novelist Paul Sheldon finishes his latest book and, as is his tradition, smokes a smoke, drinks a bottle of Dom Perignon, and heads out to deliver the finished manuscript to his publisher. On the way, he wrecks his car and himself in the snowy mountains of Colorado, where he is rescued by his professed Number One Fan, Annie Wilkes, who has much more in mind than nursing him back to health.
Misery is a great horror story. It's a fine film as well, and I hate making comparisons, so I won't; besides, the problems with this production stand on their own. Simon Moore's adaptation seems to deliver the exposition and paint its characters in the most awkward fashion possible, but it's difficult to know whether it's Moore who's awkward or the actors, and that's a shame. Director Ann Ciccolella has two fine performers at her disposal, William Earl Ray as Paul and Barbara Chisholm as Annie. Ray's approach seems to be a realistic one, and his Paul is dry as day-old toast and often works well. Chisholm's Annie is a total wacko from moment one, constantly rocking back and forth, racing about the room and seeming to spill things accidentally and everywhere. In fact, she acts very much like the sow of the title, but human beings are not pigs, the same way that pigs are not human. Approaching a character as an animal is an acting exercise, and it certainly appears that's what Ciccolella asked Chisholm to do. Annie is human in name only, and when she finally died, as all evildoers must, the audience laughed and cheered. I cringed.
But there's more. Kimberlee Koym's set is all rich, dark wood, beams and railings and floors, flowered carpets and chairs and sheets, warm, homey, and neat as a pin -- not at all what you would expect from a woman who owns farm animals and behaves like a pig, and not at all supportive of this horrific story. John Wilson's lights went black at so many inexplicable moments that I often found myself thinking about the light cues instead of the play. Sound designer Allen Robertson's score includes a selection of squeaky-fast Bernard Herrmann-like strings, but mixes in a bunch of Seventies pop that draws ironic laughter and adds nothing to the play. (And can someone explain why a 15-minute intermission is necessary during a show that lasts only 70 minutes without one?) Is it drama? Is it comedy? Is it horror? Is it farce? I'm not saying you can't mix them, but if one suffers at the hands of another and another and another, it's confusing. What is it? Does anyone know? I sure didn't.
I'm also not saying you should stay away. I found little that worked, but the almost full house consistently enjoyed themselves and stood and applauded at the end. Of course, it's possible, though unlikely, that they just weren't fans of Stephen King.