By William Goldman
Based on a novel by Stephen King
Directed by Janette Oswald
Produced by Richardson Theatre Center
Reviewed by Jenny Wood
Pardon me, I’m having a #stangirl moment. I just need a second to compose myself.
(Stan: /stan/ noun: an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity, e.g. Stanley Mitchell of “Stan” by Eminem c. 2000, Annie Wilkes of “Misery” by Stephen King c. 1987.)
We are all Stans, or at the very least fans, of something. For my part, I am a Grade A Nerd for adaptations, psychological horror stories, and the evolution of regional theatre.
Stephen King’s Misery exists in the pop culture lexicon as a classic psychological thriller novel published in 1987, a classic horror film starring Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes which premiered in 1990, and two distinct stage plays - one adapted from book to stage by Unknown* in unknown* and the other adapted from screen to stage in 2012 by the screenwriter of the 1990 film: William Goldman.
*After an exhaustive internet search, I could not identify the playwright. The Dallas Observer reviewed this version in July 2005, but did not identify the playwright in their review.
Richardson Theatre Center produced Unknown’s book-to-stage version in 2005. RTC’s current Artistic Director Rachel Lindley featured in that production as Annie Wilkes to much critical acclaim, including a Leon Rabin nomination for her efforts.
The current production presents the alternate stage version, Goldman’s book-to-screen-to-stage edition, with Lindley reprising the role of Annie, and frequent RTC director Janette Oswald guiding the ship.
Suffice it to say, given my personal fandoms, I was particularly excited for Richardson Theatre Center’s production of Misery. But with great excitement comes great expectation, and with great expectation comes the danger of crushing disappointment.
I was not disappointed.
Part of the thrill, the “intellectual exercise” if you will, of adaptations is seeing how a story translates across mediums. Here we have a story that has been told four different ways, two of which live at the forefront of their respective cultural spheres. As an added bonus with this production, we have the privilege of seeing an actor revisit a role in new cultural context.
There is substantial risk in this exercise – taking on such a well known story or character, adapted from stage to screen, often results in caricatures reenacting storyboards of the film.
Thankfully, it is clear upon entering the theatre that we will not be subjected to such a horror.
The set, co-designed by Oswald and Eddie Herring, is unexpected in a most effective way, and together with Kenneth Hall’s lighting design preserves the tone of the source material without sacrificing the organic immediacy of RTC’s black-box venue.
We are instead subjected to a very particular and welcome sort of horror… lights up on Christopher Dean as New York Times Best Selling Author Paul Sheldon followed by our first glimpse of Lindley’s Annie.
No spoilers here for anyone not familiar with the plot, but the underlying current of this production, in my humble opinion, is a unique and satisfying retelling that allows the actors to make these characters their own, but sill gives stans like me the big moments they expect.
Dean’s Sheldon is refreshingly affable but strategic, a subtle take that shines an even brighter spotlight on the experience that is Annie Wilkes. Lindley earns that spotlight, serving up a layered Annie that feels honest and precise - for the first 15 minutes she could be your favorite bookish Auntie but then… well, again, no spoilers here.
Rounding out the cast is Kenneth Fulenwider in the supporting role of Sheriff. Many will recognize Fulenwider as an actor-about-town, and of his many notable performances this one is my favorite in recent memory.
Now, this is classic Stephen King and there is some gore. Prepare to squirm and cringe and groan. But here, again, Hall’s lighting design dulls the shock just enough. For pivotal moments, we are abruptly transported into a Universal Studios Hollywood Horror Nights maze and then, just as we register what is actually happening, we are dropped back into Annie’s Colorado farmhouse. Other design work of note: Kathryn Hill’s make up work on Sheldon in Act 1 and Penny Elaine’s costuming throughout – examples of quality execution that supports rather than distracts.
And no, the book was not better.
Misery continues through September 17. It will sell out - buy your tickets here: richardsontheatrecentre.net
Audience Rating: PG13 - language, content
Run Time: 2 hours 30 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission
Accessible Seating: Available
Hearing Devices: Not Available
Sensory Friendly Performance: Not Available
Production Sound Level: Comfortable Volume
Noises or Visuals to Prepare For: Strobe Effects
Photos by James Jamison