Tuesday, August 9, 2005
Thrills pulsate in Misery
By Jack Zink, Theater Critic
So, you already saw Kathy Bates and James Caan duke it out in the 1990 movie version of Stephen King's thriller Misery. Maybe you read the book, too. The book is semi-classic King, and the Bates/Caan seesaw keeps a pretty straightforward tormentor/victim seesaw rocking.
But before an itch sends you to the video store for a casual replay, consider the goosepimply live stage version with a few distinctive wrinkles of its own at the GableStage.
Simon Moore's play was first produced in London in 1992, where it ran for six months. In recent years it's popped up frequently at American regional theaters but has not had a major New York production, for obvious reasons. Variety described the '90 movie as a functional adaptation of King's novel; Moore's script is a few notches below William Goldman's screenplay. Yet a carefully sculpted production and performances can lift the story from its home on the page. Director Joseph Adler has turned a C-grade potboiler into a B-plus melodrama.
Lyle Baskin's two-story haunted house evokes anxiety along with Michael J. Hoffman's sound effects (boots crunching on snow, creepy musical cues) and John D. Hall's lights (shadowy without straining your eyes). But it's Lisa Morgan as the angel of mercy from hell who keeps the thrill-o-meter climbing, while Stephen G. Anthony as the agonized captive never quite hits the bottom of despair.
Underneath the tower of Coral Gables' too-chic Biltmore Hotel, set designer Baskin has created the ultimate ramshackle Colorado farmhouse version of a British manor house. Baskin uses every inch of the theater's extra-wide stage, so audiences in the far corners see some action up close and personal.
Don't know the story? It's a simple horror riff that keeps playing over until the victim either succumbs or prevails. In this case Anthony portrays a hotshot romance writer whose car crashes and is rescued by his "number one fan," a nurse (the good news) driven out of her profession by the suspicious deaths of her patients.
She keeps him hostage and tortures him into writing a new novel to suit her.
King long ago began writing imagery that translates easily to movies and TV. The GableStage version uses many of the cinematic techniques Broadway theater adapted over the last generation to lure you away from the tube back into live theater.
Adler, an accomplished film director as well, parlays Moore's stage adaptation into an aggressive drama that pulses through every room of Baskin's life-sized farmhouse. It helps, too, that in Morgan as the dangerously daffy captor, Adler has an actress who puts the Q in quirky.
Jack Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4706.