I want to give a huge ovation to Laurie Metcalf for jumping into a role made so memorable on film by the award-winning Kathy Bates. Ms. Metcalf said while preparing to take on the role of Annie Wilkes in the Broadway production of Misery, she did not watch the film again to keep it out of her memory. She has truly created her own take on this crazed fan who will go to any limits to care for her favorite author. For almost 100 minutes, she rides the highs and lows of Annie Wilkes - carrying the tone of the show on her very capable shoulders. I am a huge fan of hers from film, TV and stage and think without her, this Broadway production would not have received any of the kudos that some have given it.
If you read the Stephen King novel, you would know that Paul Sheldon is a novelist who after being in a car wreck finds himself being cared for by his number one fan. Rob Reiner directed the film version which starred Ms. Bates with James Caan and was full of thrills and yet still some humor mixed in. The screenplay and the stage adaptation were both penned by William Goldman, but stage director Will Frears has a tougher time conveying things that a film could do with a simple close-up. So instead of thrills and chills, this version is big on laughs. And the audience laughs...a lot. Even at times when one can't understand WHY they are laughing.
One could say people laugh when they are uncomfortable and truly, you don't know how to take the craziness that is Ms. Metcalf...even though she is 100% committed to her role. So perhaps that's where some of the laughter comes from. There is original music used in the play to help set the tone so that we are to know it IS a drama. The incredible set and lighting are like another character in this play and between that and Ms. Metcalf, it's well worth the price of admission.
This adaptation is basically two people (along with the local police played by Leon Addison Brown seen in a few scenes). The problem with this production is that Ms. Metcalf hasn't been given a co-star that matches her on stage. I've read many reviews that say it's because her role is so much bigger than the role of the famous novelist, but that's giving film actor Bruce Willis a pass that he doesn't deserve. It has been many years since Mr. Willis has played off-Broadway in Fool for Love in 1984 and he has gone on to shine in many films.
But with his Broadway debut in this play, either he didn't fully understand the drama involved or his director couldn't get him to where he needed to be. Many reviews have called his performance low-key, but I will go further and say it is all one note. There is no fear, angst, grief - nothing from a man that is being held against his will week after week by this woman. He plays everything as if he already knows the ending and is not concerned with what she may or may not do to him. We need to feel what he is feeling in order to be pulled into his hell, but that never happens. This made me very sad for Ms. Metcalf. I realize Mr. Willis is bringing in audiences to see this show, but shame on the producers for not giving her a better acting partner to share the stage.
All of this said, if you are a fan of this story - it is well worth seeing (it was on TKTS tonight). Her performance is amazing, the set rotates so that Willis can make his way through the house, and there are some pretty great effects as well. All-in-all...it's an interesting way to spend an intermission-less evening...even as we head into the holidays. A creepy winter's tale - with some laughs supplied by audience members sitting around you.