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Misery: Theater review by David Cote
Early in Misery, ex-nurse Annie Wilkes (Laurie Metcalf) informs novelist Paul Sheldon (Bruce Willis) that after a horrible car accident, he’s been in a coma for four days. Make that four days, 90 minutes—Willis’s weirdly narcotized and passive Broadway debut goes above and beyond the drugged, physically diminished circumstances of his character. On a meta level, Misery is about Willis playing film star Willis being terrorized by Metcalf’s superior acting talent.
For any poor soul who shells outs $165 a ticket rather than, say, streams the flick while enjoying a nice cup of cocoa, there’s partial compensation: a majestically loony turn by Metcalf as the deranged “number-one fan” of Sheldon’s Gothic romance series. Filling the vacuum left by a deadpanning Willis, Metcalf hoots, purrs, howls and tears around her kitsch-filled Colorado home, where Sheldon is imprisoned and forced to write her favorite character back to life.
Metcalf, as always, gives 120%, and David Korins’s set is no slouch, either—a picture-perfect mountainside cottage that revolves to show exterior views and other rooms in Annie’s hideaway of horrors. Likewise, the pleasures of this production (perfunctorily staged by Will Frears) are mostly visual and all predicable: Sheldon desperately wheeling himself through the house in search of a tool to aid his escape; Wilkes swinging a sledgehammer her captive’s ankles; and the climactic battle royal. The latter event is far too quick and not terribly convincing.
William Goldman’s stage adaptation of his own 1990 screenplay is lazily faithful to his own work. He makes some concessions to stage necessities—eliminating supporting characters or information we could only get in close-up—but fails to add more of something theater can do well: compelling, revealing dialogue. We never get to know Sheldon as a person or artist, and Wilkes remains a two-dimensional bitch-demon. This basic lack of character development severely shortchanges Goldman’s invented coda, in which Sheldon talks about how he learned something about writing from the sadistic harridan who tortured him. It rings false, to say the least. Still, if life imitates art, by the end of Misery’s run, Willis may have learned something about acting from Metcalf. The rest of us just paid to watch the class.—David Cote
Broadhurst Theatre (Broadway). By William Goldman. Based on the novel by Stephen King. Directed by Will Frears. With Bruce Willis, Laurie Metcalf. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote