One of the late singer Helen Reddy’s hits songs (circa 1974) began with the lyrics “Lonely women are the desperate kind.” That’s a good thought to keep when you see Misery on stage now at D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre.
Misery is based on the Stephen King novel which also became a film. The stage adaptation by William Goldman is just as eerie, creepy, and moody as one would expect of a story with King origin, and does a good job keeping you on the proverbial edge of your seat.
Our lonely, desperate, not-exactly a heroine is Annie Wilkes, an ex-nurse who lives alone in a secluded Colorado farm house. She’s the “number one fan” of novelist Paul Sheldon and his historical fiction series about Misery Chastain. Sheldon ironically stays at a nearby inn from time to time, and when Annie is not-so-ironically following him on a mountain road during a snowstorm and he skids off the road, she decides to nurse him back to health. In her home. Without calling for help. And that’s where it all gets weird. Wonderfully, psychologically, and thrillingly weird.
Loraine O’Donnell is Wilkes, Adriano Gatto is Sheldon together (with a couple visits from the Sheriff, played by Steven Brachmann), they take us on a journey of obsession and extreme fan-girl gone mad.
The emotional tone is established by David King’s set. It revolves to show three key spaces in Annie’s home; the bedroom where Paul is locked in; the hallway with a bookshelf tribute to Paul and his Misery books, and Annie’s kitchen. Each space is dreary with time-darkened wallpaper, old furnishings, and dowdy trappings with some religious displays, too. Props to prop designer Donny Woodward for creating a visual atmosphere of sadness from the start. (Shout out to the ‘50s vintage copper Jello molds hanging over the kitchen sink. Dear readers who have visited my home know that mine hang in the pantry.)
The Annie we meet is bubbly, excited to be caring for her captive idol, and devoted to his recovery. Or not. O’Donnell is the master of this transformation, from eager helpmate to captor….her eyes, her mannerisms, her demeanor shifts and morphs as our story unfolds. Gatto as Paul does his share of shifting, too, as he regains physical strength and mental wherewithal. And as he heals, the fun begins. He wants to leave. Annie needs him to stay. And she’s determined. The mental calisthenics they play is so creepy good, bewitching almost. Director Brian Cavanagh coaxed power into the restraint here and it’s fine. The most visually arresting scene was as the set rotated counterclockwise as Paul propelled his wheelchair clockwise through the rooms looking for a way out. Gatto choreographed some chilling fight scenes, too, between Annie and Paul and some weapons, too.
Misery is smart, sad, sharp, and scary. It’s a potent reminder that disappointment and life circumstances can change someone’s heart and soul, perhaps beyond repair, and even pop literature has power when the reader is very fully engaged. D’Youville Kavinoky is telling more than a story here.
Misery is on stage until November 20 and runs a little more than two hours with a 15-minute intermission. I particularly love the printed program and the “stand by” cast (Don Gervasi as Paul, Marie Costa as Annie, Kodi James as the Sheriff.) A good decision on the Kav’s part to have standbys at the ready. Too many productions were truncated or canceled the past couple years and this is a good plan. Book your reservation at http://www.kavinokytheatre.com.