Annie, get your gun!
How much more do you want to know about Misery, which hobbled to its opening Sunday night on Broadway? William Goldman wrote the script, as he did the screenplay for Rob Reiner’s 1990 Castle Rock film based on Stephen King‘s novel. Bruce Willis is meh as super successful schlock writer Paul Sheldon, who drives his vintage Mustang off a Colorado mountain road during a blizzard, landing him in the care of Annie Wilkes, his self-proclaimed “Number One Fan.” Laurie Metcalf plays Annie, mostly in a vacuum but also absent the demonic interplay between obsession and flat-out nut-jobbiness that Kathy Bates brought to the film: Metcalf is pretty far gone even before Annie learns early on that her god has killed off his heroine Misery Chastain in the latest installment of his Misery nonology. (To be fair to this great actress, Goldman has stripped Annie almost entirely of her back-story, the revelations of which gave the book and the film their creepy layers of suspense.)
If you can put aside the fact that the show offers about five seconds of actual, thriller-type suspense during its 90 intermissionless minutes, you can see glimpses of a younger and extremely likable Willis in Misery. As an episode of Moonlighting, it gets a C+ for the sometimes amusing serve-and-volley between the actors. As heart-racing thriller, however, such masters of this theatrical form as Ira Levin (Deathtrap), Frederick Knott (Dial M For Murder) and Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth) remain unchallenged.
None of this registers as much of a surprise. Willis has some stage experience but here seems unconcerned with projection, let alone registering fear (pain, however, he does quite well, for which I suppose we can thank the Die Hard franchise). One might have expected more of Goldman, the Oscar-winning writer of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and All The President’s Men. He’s an expert at analyzing where others went wrong in Hollywood and Times Square, yet this script just smacks of laziness, hitting the buttons that fans of the film and book will mouth like audiences at the Singalong Sound Of Music and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but little more. He’s even dened the third character, Sheriff Buster (Leon Addison Brown) his innate intelligence and playfulness not to mention a sassy wife (the endearing Frances Sternhagen in the film).
What does surprise is that director Will Frears seems to have demanded so little not only of his stars but of most of the production team. David Korins is one of the theater’s most exciting set designers (Hamilton, Passing Strange) and so maybe there’s a reason I’m just not getting for the world’s fakest snowbound cabin (the icicles hanging from the eaves look straight out of Wal-Mart and the snowdrifts appear to be hiding last week’s laundry). There’s nice somber lighting by David Weiner and the expected perfect clothes from Ann Roth, along with hard-working musical underscoring by Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson).
What this is, is a summer stock production (indeed, it was first produced at the Bucks County Playhouse) from somewhere on the Straw Hat circuit that ceased to exist at least three decades ago. Very odd, given the producers are Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures and Castle Rock. Misery is harmless — and really, what’s the point of that?