The Asolo Rep’s Misery offers some twisted Halloween fun.
By Kay Kipling
At the opening of Simon Moore’s adaptation of Stephen King’s suspenser Misery, now onstage at the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Cook Theatre, we see writer Paul Sheldon accepting an award and explaining how he came to write his bestselling series of romantic fiction novels. He saw the headline “Misery in Paradise” in a newspaper, he tells his audience, and he asked himself, “What if Misery were a person?”
Well, Misery is a person, although not necessarily the fictional heroine of his popular bodice-rippers bearing that name. Misery, in Paul’s case, comes in the person of Annie Wilkes (Devora Millman), who rescues him after a car accident during a snowstorm in a remote part of Colorado and then proceeds to alternately take care of his badly damaged body and mess with his vulnerable psyche.
That’s because Annie is crazier than a loon, something the bedridden Paul (David Breitbarth) gradually comes to realize as she holds him hostage in her isolated farmhouse. At the same time he becomes aware of his complete helplessness without her pain pills and attention—after all she is a trained nurse, albeit one with more than a few patient deaths on her record. And we also see his writer’s mind begin to work as Annie confesses that she’s his No. 1 fan—and demands he write a Misery sequel, just for her.
Devora Millman and David Breitbarth in the Asolo Rep’s Misery.
This is the twisted perfection of King’s setup. And much of the Asolo Rep’s production is fun to watch in the right cat-and-mouse way. There are appropriately creepy sound effects, flashy lighting and a cinematic feel to the way the scenes move in and out. And Millman and Breitbarth are well paired together and give nicely tuned performances.
But the payoff at the end somehow isn’t as big as we hope it will be. And the very last scene feels abrupt indeed; we need a little more time to take it all in. How much of this is the fault of the playwright and how much is the direction is hard to tell, but perhaps some retooled pacing of the last portion of the production could help.
But Misery is still entertaining, especially while we’re all in the Halloween mood. It continues through Dec. 9; call 351-8000 or go to asolo.org for tickets.