“What if misery was a person?”
That line, which ended the opening monologue, hung in the air during the silence that followed it. That line also hovered in my mind throughout the entire play.
I arrived at the Generic Theater that night familiar with Steven King’s Misery; I knew it was the dark, brutal tale of a wounded man confined in the home of his crazed number one fan. It is the story of two people whose lives cross literally by accident. Paul Sheldon (Kevin Gunn) is an award-winning author who spends his winters writing in the mountains of Colorado; Annie Wilkes (Katherine Alyse) is a former nurse who lives alone in a nearby town. A blizzard hits the area; Paul loses control of his car and goes off the road. Annie finds him, saves him from the harsh storm, and brings him home to treat his severe injuries.
Initially, things seem to be fine. Annie is thrilled when she discovers that he is none other than the Paul Sheldon, author of the “Misery Chastain” book series that she adores. She is no longer alone, and her company is her favorite author no less. Paul is thankful for the medication and care that Annie gives him; his legs were crushed in his accident, leaving him immobile and in excruciating pain.
But things are definitely not fine. Annie learns that Paul is not the perfect man she thought he was; he is a “dirty birdie” who smokes and swears. Paul discovers that Annie is not always the cheerful nurse she initially seems to be. She is hollow and despondent; she is also angry and sadistic. Paul quickly realizes that his rescue is actually his entrapment.
Katherine Alyse and Kevin Gunn gave amazing performances as Annie and Paul. Being the only two characters in the play, they carried the power of the story tremendously. Their energy filled the theater, and kept the audience engaged throughout.
Katherine magnificently shows the different layers of Annie’s complex character. Her delivery is just right; her mannerisms and expressions are believable, not overdone. Her ability to transition from bubbly cheerfulness to melancholy emptiness to vicious cruelty (and then back again) is extraordinary. Kevin successfully portrays the sarcastic-and-witty-turned-anguished-and-helpless Paul. As time passes, we can see the situation breaking him; the build up of desperation and the deterioration of hope are clearly and genuinely displayed.
The set design, sound design, and lighting are superb. The set consists of three rooms in Annie’s house; the walls are cleverly left open, and they are oriented so that the audience can see into all three at once. The seating for the audience is also on the same level as the set, which helps to establish the feeling that we are in the house with them as the events transpire. The suspended lighting and effects enhance the varying moods throughout the play. I especially loved the visual approach to THE SCENE (if you are familiar with the story, you know which scene I’m referring to; I don’t want to spoil it for anyone); let’s just say it is remarkably intense. The sound design (by AltDaily’s own Jake Hull) is elegantly haunting; it meshes perfectly with the scenes, creating atmosphere and adding emotion without distracting from the action onstage.
All in all, the production of Misery at the Generic Theater is simply brilliant.
Misery. Two people intertwined in an extremely devastating situation; one wrestling with her own madness, the other fighting for his life. Both personifying different kinds of misery.
This article was originally published on AltDaily in February of 2011.