Katherine Martin & Brian Hinds in Misery. Photo: Matthew Bryan Pruitt
By William Goldman
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by Jason Cooper
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I’m not automatically a fan of horror but Stephen King is something else. His best stories rise above the genre tropes but remain deeply satisfying exercises in human unease and the tenuous attachment to normal. And William Goldman is one of the all-time great screenwriters, so the stage adaptation does not disappoint. In fact, the limitations of setting and circumstance waste no time in getting to the heart of the matter.
But the biggest surprise is in realizing that Misery is a comedy. Dark and violent before it is over, but still, a comedy all the same.
It opens with writer Paul Sheldon (Brian Hinds) already convalescing from his automobile accident in the home of former nurse Annie Wilkes (Katherin Martin). Annie’s eccentricity and obsessive devotion to Sheldon and his series of novels focusing on Misery Chastain are immediately apparent, and Goldman seems fully aware of the degree of familiarity audiences will bring to this story, refusing to be coy about where the story is headed. You can feel that sustained anticipation in the crowd with every onstage action, but the lack of surprise is mitigated by the quality of the production.
While Patrick Jump’s set is beautifully realized in every detail, and Mandy Kramer’s costumes are right on the money, Misery depends more than anything on the performances of Paul and Annie for its impact, and here director Jason Cooper has shown the good sense to enlist two of the best actors in Louisville. Katherine Martin and Brian Hinds always exercise good judgment in their work but are also capable of great daring. While Hinds works with restraint and naturalism in the reactive role of the bedridden writer, Martin is way out on a limb here, and that’s okay because of this character, but it is her work that illuminates the black humor of what may be Stephen King’s only farce.
Annie is essentially a comic character, a broadly drawn goody-goody isolated in a remote mountain home, a bi-polar loner who is the obverse of another dangerous hermit, Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), in that her obsession is not government conspiracy but a fictional character in high-tone romance novels. Goldman gives us a glimpse into the serious mental illness behind her behavior – she has been described as a veritable catalog of modern mental diseases – but her cartoonishness makes her oddly endearing, and the audience’s relationship with her highlights the fine line separating humor and terror.
Hinds understands that Paul is our conduit into the action; that we can easily identify with his circumstance because this is the less frequent King story with no supernatural elements. The evil in the ordinary. So he saves his larger moves for the final scenes, and the climax finds Paul and Annie in one, final, high-stakes confrontation in which all restraint and strategy are abandoned.
King wrote Misery about his own battle with addiction and, even though Goldman removes the direct references to this from the source novel, mental illness, and substance abuse have come to occupy a similar space in American culture, and however much we laugh at Paul Sheldon’s self-professed “number one fan!” it covers for our own fears and insecurities.
You will laugh and you will cringe all at the same time.
August 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, & 28 @ 7:30 pm
The Chicken Coop Theatre Company
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.