The hardest thing in the world is to write a suspenseful thriller for the stage. And octogenarian Hollywood veteran William Goldman has done just that. In translating his great 1990 screenplay of “Misery” into a play that keeps you at the edge of your seat, he has solved all the writing problems, all the possible screen-to-stage glitches are not present, and scared me to death in the process. I bit all my nails off!
Based on the book by Stephen King, it is set in a remote, lonely, snow-bound house in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Nobody goes near ex-nurse Annie Wilkes and you can soon see why. As embodied by the terrific Laurie Metcalf, I can see a Tony Award in her future. Just as an Oscar win was in the future of Kathy Bates in the film version of “Misery.” Sure, she chews up the scenery and nearly eats Bruce Willis’ bed-bound novelist Paul Sheldon for dinner SEVERAL times,but that’s the part! And what a part it is!
Metcalf has to summon the horrors of Hannibal Lechter, Cruella de Ville, Ursula the Sea Witch, and others,to horrible to mention, and she does, brilliantly.
It’s only 90 minutes with no intermission. So that is claustrophobic in and of itself. An intermission would let the audience get up, walk around and breathe, and escape the horrible catastrophic confinement that Willis’ successful,rich, globe-trotting novelist finds himself in. He’s being held prisoner, you see, by his “#1 fan” Ms. Wilkes.
Both his legs have been broken in a car crash in a blizzard in the mountains and he was “saved” by god-fearing, good nurse Annie, who was following him in her car. OR DID SHE FORCE HIS CAR OFF THE ROAD???
This mystery hovers over the maniacal Annie, a nightmare if ever there was one. Who may turn homicidal at any moment. And Spoiler Alert, does…
In the previous iterations of “Misery”, it is implied that Annie has had a background as a serial-killing nurse, who murdered double-digits worth of her patients. Not so here, but Metcalf is so truly frightening in her dowdy, down-trodden way, she becomes everyone’s worst church lady nightmare.
And Willis? Well, he just has to lie there and be Bruce Willis. And he does, very believably, and audiences will pack in to see him suffer the torments of the damned. And enjoy it! But he’s no slouch in the acting department. He, though bed and wheel-chair bound, for most of the play, is keeping up with the oh-so-mad Metcalf beat for beat, as they execute the fatal pad-de-deux of a best-selling author, and his Number One Fan.
It’s set in the 1980s, which makes the whole cut-off-from-the-world-by- a-phone-line-being-down-in-a-blizzard plot point, believable. Imagine if it was set today with all the social media available to someone like Willis’ Paul Sheldon? It wouldn’t be the same play.
But it is a perfect Grand Guignol period piece, and the round table set by David Korin, keeps Annie’s bizarre house of horrors spinning. And the lighting by David Weiner, the sound design by Darron L. West and the original music by Michael Friedman are all spookily perfect in their way.
But it’s the script by two time Academy Award winner William Goldman that is the real surprise for me. He known as the author of the famous quote about Show Business “Nobody Knows Anything.”
Well, Mr. Goldman certainly knows plenty.The author of the screenplays for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men”,he’s showing a dazzling range with “Misery.” He’s written a perfect stage thriller that could run for years. And probably will.
I wondered how a stage version of “Misery” would play, and it does, like gang-busters.