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Bruce Willis heading to Broadway so Elizabeth Marvel can act him off the stage

By David Cote

On this snowy day of minimal visibility we are reminded of the opening credits of Misery, the 1990 Rob Reiner movie based on the Stephen King bestseller. On such a day, successful romance novelist Paul Sheldon finished his latest book in a Colorado cabin, packed up his car and headed back East. Of course, Paul never got there. He flipped his car on the slick road, got banged up bad, and who rescued him but good ole Annie Wilkes, Paul's self-professed "#1 Fan." You probably know the rest. 

News came late yesterday that there’s a Misery stage adaptation (by William Goldman, who also penned the screenplay) heading to Broadway this fall (venue and dates yet to be announced). It stars Bruce Willis as the mostly bedridden Paul and stage veteran Elizabeth Marvel as the bipolar, controlling Annie. For King fans, those who love the film, or anyone thrilled to see the Die Hard franchise star up close and live, this is great news.

Then there’s everyone else who knows what a freaking amazing theater animal Marvel is.

We’re not going to list her CV here, but for the last couple of decades, Marvel has blazed across our stages in new plays and classics, often working with Dutch genius director Ivo van Hove at New York Theatre Workshop. She can be emotionally raw and impossibly intense, and you can’t take your eyes off her. In Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities at Lincoln Center, it seemed that Off Broadway was too small for her; she was acting so damn hard; she dialed it back and was even more amazing in 2013 as a matrimonially impatient schoolteacher in Picnic.

But Annie Wilkes is a perfect fit for Marvel. She can channel all her mania and violence into this caregiver-from-Hell character, one of King’s most personal and terrifying. The only question is: Can Willis, making his professional stage debut, hold his own against such a force of nature? The role of Paul allows an actor to show agony, struggle, doubt and desperation—all well within the action star’s wheelhouse—but it’s also quite passive. We simply hope that Willis watches Marvel very carefully in rehearsal, studies her moves, and sees where he can gain an edge in the battle of wills—sort of like Paul does, languishing all winter in his bed of pain.


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