A beloved novelist takes a wrong turn on a snowy Colorado road, crashes his car and finds himself in the care of his number one fan, who is determined to nurse him back to health. What luck!
Yes, it’s Misery, one of Stephen King’s most famous works. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the premise that’s kept audiences rapt for over 30 years –— stripped away of everything, this is a story of survival. Paul Sheldon (Dylan Twiner) is the author of a celebrated book of romance novels centered around the character Misery Chastain. After a terrible accident, he finds himself being cared for by former nurse Annie Wilkes (Deya Ozburn), whose thrill of meeting her favorite author is ruined by the knowledge that he has killed off his titular literary heroine.
And so, an author becomes caged by the fan who loves him the most. As days turn into weeks, the dynamics between the two shift and change, with poor Paul trying every way he can think of to appease the desires of Annie. Stephen King’s special talent for generating tension in closed quarters, along with William Goldman’s adaptation of this work, makes for a tightly crafted tale.
Misery has come to represent the stereotypical story of the obsessed fan, but the play still packs plenty of juice. Here, Chris Serface has directed a humming little number, filled with as many thrills as darkly comedic moments. Inventive staging lets you learn the geography of this secluded house in real time, along with our protagonist, whose every movement with his broken legs registers as little bits of shock for the audience. And I’ve never seen a crowd so viscerally and vocally rooting against a villain.
Ozburn is given the unenviable task of handling the showier of the two roles, and indeed, a part that won Kathy Bates an Oscar for her performance. She gives Annie Wilkes enough humanity to allow a bit of benefit of the doubt from the audience, before eventually allowing madness to completely take over. Twiner has a different challenge, navigating a character who –— through the circumstances of his imprisonment –— has to maintain a mostly pleasant exterior, while we can feel his nerves fraying away under the pressure. Both do a remarkable job.
This is a thriller filled mostly with small, interpersonal moments. Nearly all of the running time is split between Ozburn and Twiner, whose work together generates most of the tension. The only other character is the sheriff, played by the always reliable Andrew Fry, who pops up during a couple of pivotal moments.
Fans of the original novel or movie of Misery may be anticipating one memorably graphic scene, and we can report that it’s here. Necessities of the stage mean that it doesn’t get quite as nasty as it did in the film, but the point is carried across, and the audience was palpably squirming throughout.
I meant to call this show a “potboiler,” though Google tells me this phrase has a generally negative connotation. What I mean, though, is that this captures a certain essence of Stephen King’s work: the desire to pick it up in a random shop, or while out on vacation, read it ravenously, and then eagerly anticipate the next offering. Tacoma Little Theatre’s production of Misery does exactly that. It’s an ideal October show, so much fun to see with a crowd, and I’m so primed to get spooked for the rest of the month.
Photos courtesy of Dennis K Photography.
7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Oct. 20-Nov. 5
Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N I St., Tacoma
General $29, Student/Military $27, Children 12 & Under $22
https://www.tacomalittletheatre.com/home, (253) 272-2281