Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's recent review of The Hit
For anyone unfamiliar with the story, or in case you need a refresher, Paul Sheldon is a best-selling author who drives his car off the road and into a ravine during a blizzard. The crash knocks Paul unconscious and when he wakes up four days later, he finds himself with broken legs and in a bed in the home of Annie Wilkes, a former nurse who saved his life and who says she is his number-one fan. Over the course of his recoupment, he starts to realize that Annie isn't just a loner but also an unhinged psychopath who isn't happy with the latest changes he's made to the title character in his series of romantic fiction novels that she is obsessed with.
William Goldman adapted his own screenplay for the stage and he includes much of the familiar dialogue and situations that fans of the film will already know. What's missing from this theatrical adaptation is the fact that, on film, you can heighten suspense through the use of close-ups and editing, so some of the moments between scenes bog down the forward movement of the play. Also, it's much easier in a movie to depict terror and horror, whereas on stage those moments can sometimes elicit unintentional laughter.
Fortunately, director Chelsea Anderson does an admirable job of keeping the tension tight and the mood foreboding. The atmospheric sound and lighting design by Ross Collins helps greatly, as does the superb set design by Peter J. Hill, expertly depicting both the interior rooms and exterior entry to Annie's house. The costumes by Noël Irick are character perfect as are the realistic make-up effects that depict the wounds that Paul suffered in the car accident.
Patrick Russo and Christi Sweeney are very good as Paul and Annie. They create fresh portrayals without appearing to mimic the well-known film performances of James Caan and Kathy Bates. Sweeney does a fine job walking the blurry line between the sane and psychotic sides of Annie. The even-measured delivery of her dialogue is often charming and chilling at the same time, with a frequently sadistic undertone. When Annie becomes unhinged and dangerous, Sweeney's performance approaches a terrifying level. While Paul spends half of the show as an invalid in bed, Russo's realistic facial reactions make you believe he's suffering extreme pain from both his injuries and the lack of pain medication, and also from Annie's bullying and rough treatment. When Paul becomes more mobile and is in a wheelchair, you also believe from Russo's assured performance that, while his body may still not be at 100%, his brain is fully calculating his escape. We also see how Paul knows he has to constantly avoid pushing the deranged Annie too far toward the edge, since he's aware of what she's capable of doing to him. Arthur Kilduff is good in the smaller role of the local sheriff.
Misery may be an almost scene-for-scene rehash of the popular film, but with a good cast and solid direction it still manages to elicit numerous thrills and chills.
Misery runs through January 22, 2023, at Fountain Hills Theater, 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills AZ. For information and tickets, please visit fhtaz.org or call 480-837-9661.
Director: Chelsea Anderson