Saturday, November 28, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Misery with Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf

By Lauren Yarger
It has all of elements of the book and the movie: a helpless author, trapped in a remote house with his crazy "number-one" fan. The stage version of Stephen King's chilling novel Misery also offers film star Bruce Willis making his  Broadway debut opposite a formidable Laurie Metcalf.

The parts you remember from the book and movie (starring James Caan and Kathy Bates) are there, so you will recognize the story easily, but so is something else you might not be expecting: laughter.


The audience roars at some of the most horrifying moments in this psychological drama. It took me by surprise at first, then I came to appreciate it, if not feel comfortable with it.


Director Will Frears, and Metcalf in particular, seem to embrace the fact that many of the folks sitting in seats already know the story and create a feeling of empathy with Willis' character. We know what he is feeling and we know exactly what is going to happen to him, so the laughter usually is sympathetic. It's just unexpected at first, because if you ever have watched Bates' chilling performance or sat with the blanket pulled up over your head while reading the gripping novel, you probably weren't laughing.


The story (adapted for the stage by William Goldman) is set in the snowbound home of Annie Wilkes (Metcalf) in a remote part of Colorado. Paul Sheldon (Willis) awakes in Annie's home following a car crash that has left him bedridden with two broken legs and other injuries. The snow storm  has taken out phone lines and closed the roads into town, but Annie, who apparently has some medical training, has set the fractures and pumped Paul full of painkillers.


While Paul can't wait for the phones to come back so he can contact his agent, Annie couldn't be happier at the turn of events. She is the self-proclaimed, number-one fan of Paul's series of novels following the adventures of a protagonist named Misery, and as his number-one fan she knows that he was in the area to finish a book, the only copy of which was on the front seat with him when the car crashed.


Annie begs for an opportunity to read the new manuscript, and Paul, appreciative of her help, agrees to let her have a look.


The book isn't what Annie was expecting, however, and when she discovers that Paul has killed off Misery and brought an end to her adventures, Annie appoints herself editor and insists Paul rewrite the story. As Annie's unstable mental condition becomes evident, Paul tries to keep the woman appeased while planning to escape. Annie takes extreme measures to keep Paul on task, however -- yes, the hobbling scene is gruesomely depicted, though to roars of laughter, which is kind of more frightening than the act itself, if you think about it.


Leon Addison Brown completes the cast as Buster, a police officer who suspects that all might not be well at the Wilkes' house, the rooms of which are revealed by a revolving stage designed by David Korins, who put his budget there,  rather than into the very fake-looking snow on the exterior of the house.


Metcalf, as always, is brilliant. Behind the smiling, adoring fan is a manic, dark, sadistic misery just waiting to rear its ugly head. Willis, on the other hand, is strangely one-dimensional, as though trying with all effort not to let any part of his "Die Hard" or other super-hero film characters be seen. As a result, Paul doesn't seem very afraid of Annie and even appears to be OK with her mistreatment. We don't get a sense of the author trying to mask his terror, agony or despair.


If we did, it would be harder to join in the laughter, I suppose. I enjoyed it, but was expecting more from this 90-minute, no-intermission adaptation. Lighting design by David Weiner, sound design by Darron L. West, and original music by Michael Friedman don't create the suspenseful, on-the-edge-of-your-seat feel that should be there.



Misery plays at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44thSt., NYC through Feb. 14. Performances are Tuesday - Thursday at 7 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $69-$165: 800-432-7250; miserybroadway.com

Christians might like to know:

-- Violence
-- Language
-- Blood

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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