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Review: Playmakers production of 'Misery' electrifies a dull novel


I hate the novel "Misery." 

As a massive fan of the horror genre, it pains me to say that. Horror is meant to be immersive, but when I was reading it I felt completely disconnected from the plot. 

However, PlayMakers Repertory Company’s new production of Stephen King’s "Misery," adapted by William Goldman and opening Friday, Oct. 13 and running through Oct. 31, was an intimate and thrilling experience.

Published in 1987, "Misery" follows Paul Sheldon, an author who is kidnapped and tortured by his self-proclaimed No. 1 fan, Annie Wilkes. The story explores the dangers of parasocial relationships and discusses themes of dehumanization, isolation and physical and mental illness. 

From the moment I stepped into the theater, I felt engrossed in this world. PlayMakers’ creative team captured the details that I felt King failed to provide. 

I was particularly impressed by the elements of motion that were brought into the set, which was designed by McKay Coble. Annie’s cabin was built on a rotating stage that would often move with the actors, creating seamless set changes and adding movement to moments where the novel stood still.

In one particular scene, Paul is searching the house for means of escape while Annie is away. When Annie returns earlier than expected, Paul races through the rotating set to cover up any evidence that he had been out of his room. 

When I read the novel this summer, this was my favorite scene, but PlayMakers' staging, thanks to director Jeffrey Meanza, made it all the more urgent. Although I knew what was coming, I held my breath for Paul as he struggled to return everything to the way it was. 

In that moment, I was rooting for Paul Sheldon. The greatest issue that I had while reading the novel was the apathy toward him and the other characters. 

Karl Kenzler’s performance as Paul brought life into a character who I thought was doomed to be dull.  

While the novel’s portrayal of Paul read as arrogant and somewhat boring, Kenzler’s portrayal was witty, sarcastic and most importantly, believably terrified of the woman holding him captive. 

As one of the only female horror villains of her time, I expected that King would give Annie depth and dimension in the novel. 

Julia Gibson’s performance was somehow both terrifying and heart wrenching, delivering the depth that I desperately wanted from the book.

In both the book and PlayMakers' production, I had no sympathy for Annie. But Gibson’s subtlety of facial expression managed to remind the audience that she was human, despite her role as a villain. In small moments between the big action of the play, her eyes seemed to illuminate with hints of hesitation and regret that I felt was missing in the book. 

Gibson and Kenzler had undeniable stage chemistry, which I believe is what allowed them to bring King’s story to life in a satisfying way. Both of the actors fed off of each other's energy for the entirety of the two-hour performance. 

The acting in "Misery" was nothing short of electric. 

Whether you loved the novel, hated it or have never read it — this performance is not one to miss. 

Tickets for the production in the Paul Green Theatre are available on PlayMakers' website. 

@dthlifestyle |

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