Review of Misery Theatre Play

Posted: November 13, 2015, 04:00
I got an email from Roy Bruhn who went to see the theatrical version of Misery with Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf. In the mail he shared his thoughts on it with me and after him giving me his approval I’d like to share it here with you. Unfortunatley the play isn’t as good as one could hope for… Here is what Roy had to say.

I am not a theatre critic, but I love theatre and the medium and was very curious how they would manage to bring one of my favorite King stories on stage. I loved the book (having said that, I only read it once, when it was released), I did like the movie, but I don’t think it captured the elements and the spirit of the book very well. I think the movie was a good stand-alone movie, but not a very good book adaption, when it comes to produce similar emotions in me as the book did and to portrait well (or at all) what I saw as the key ideas of the book.

Anyway, now it is about the play: It started all very promising, the stage design looked great and was rotating during the play, dynamically changing the potion of the house that was faced to the audience while the actors where acting. The house segments shown where outdoors, Paul’s bed chamber, the hallway and the kitchen. I am attaching you a picture of the outdoors view, as it looked before the play started. The intro was very well done, the bed chamber was dark, some light came through the window, enough to see there is a badly injured person in the bed, the door opened and light come flooding in from the corridor. The long shadow of Annie was preceding her and have the whole play a fabulous eerie start. Unfortunately this was already the best of the play. Of course, the story in itself remains great, but the play really seem to have butchered it and turned it nearly into a comedy rather than a suspenseful stage adaption. Bruce Willis' performance was bad, he never convinced me. He seemed to be more annoyed with Annie then scared.

There was one scene and an early one that showed Annie’s madness, where she let him take his medication with water from the bucket she just cleaned the floor with. That was great and showed the subtle thread of what might develop into a nightmare. However, the development never took place, it just got more and more comical. I am not sure if this was intended or not, but it was surely not in the spirit of the story.

There are some key scenes that would have needed proper stage effect to work. They did it very well when Annie mutilated Paul by breaking his legs the way the movies has done it. It was very well done, with a real surprise, because you could not see that the legs that were broking before your eyes, were not real. Saying that I would have preferred if Annie had amputated one foot as she did it in the book. I think this is much more powerful and shocking. However, other key scenes such as Paul fighting Annie and eventually killing her with the typewriter, was abysmally bad. It was like kids very playing to kill each other. Same with the policeman that was shot. There was no build up in suspension, it happened all too fast and was only comical.

Of course there were also more scenes where they got it right: Paul investigating the house while Annie is out, finding the kitchen which had previously been spotless and tidy, being turned into a rubbish dump and thus reflecting on the mental state of the woman who controls him. Laurie Metcalf playing Annie did a good job though, especially with viewers surely having the Katy Bates type Annie in mind. She managed to give Annie a new side and different depth and a convincing mix of vulnerability and craziness.

The end of the play was unfortunately one of the worst elements of the play: after having survived Annie, Bruce Willies as Paul stood in front of the fallen curtain, speaking at the publishing event of Misery’s Return. Firstly, I only saw Bruce Willis here, not Paul Sheldon. Willis missed to capture the character at all. Secondly, Paul’s ambivalent feelings to how the book Misery’s Return came to being, where not visible at all, yet I think it is a very important part of the story: Paul grew very fond of Misery’s Return and maybe for the first time he was able to identify with this series that made him so popular. Nothing of this shown through. Thirdly, it all ended with light going on behind the curtains and have the spirit of Annie haunting Paul’s mind by saying in a ghostly voice “I am your biggest fan”. That really put me off. To me it is a story about healing and survival, not about being haunted by your past.

So, I did enjoy the play for the experience itself: being in New York for the first time, seeing famous actors on stage, having a great set on stage and seeing some very well done sequences of the book I love. Overall I was disappointed and think there was an opportunity missed to really engage with the story and produce something great on stage that can live up to the greatness of the book.

On additional note: I have seen preview showing and I am not quite sure how this varies much form the main ones that will follow, but I guess it can’t be so much different to change my opinion of the play. Additionally I am not quite sure how much the actual stage script contributes to what I did not like and how much it was down to this specific production. I have not seen any other productions of this play, but apparently there have been quite a few over the years.