By William Goldman. Based on the novel by Stephen King. Directed by Rachel Ditor. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Granville Island Stage on Wednesday, April 11. Continues until May 5
“I’m your number one fan.”
This is the first thing former nurse Annie Wilkes (Lucia Frangione) says to famed writer Paul Sheldon (Andrew McNee) as he’s waking up four days after a car accident that nearly claimed his life. But he doesn’t wake up in hospital; instead, Paul wakes up in Annie’s house, his legs in makeshift splints as if he’s a bird with a busted wing rather than a man with immobilizing fractures. At first, Paul is grateful to be alive, but soon he realizes that he’s not so much saved as he is captive, and Annie’s obsession with him isn’t flattering but probably fatal.
Academy Award–winning writer William Goldman scripted the acclaimed film version of Misery (Kathy Bates, James Caan), based on Stephen King’s book of the same name, and then Goldman adapted his screenplay for the stage. For the most part, it works. At the heart of this thriller is dark humour, and there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments amid the macabre. The humour doesn’t diffuse the tension; if anything, it amplifies the danger because Paul and the audience quickly realize that Annie is utterly unpredictable and not above using God to help justify her torture of Paul. The first instance of this behaviour is the most grim: to punish Paul for something, she pours out his clean water, replaces it with brown water from the gross mop bucket, and drops his pain pills inside. If he wants any relief, he’ll have to drink the gross water, and this humiliation is next-level abuse.
In Goldman’s adaptation from screen to stage, he could have seen fit to trim a few minutes off of the first act, which just feels a bit long. But even a few sagging moments in Act 1 can’t diminish the magic between Frangione and McNee. This production of Misery has been on tour and only now is making its Granville Island Stage debut, but nothing feels phoned-in at all. McNee holds fast to Paul’s ego—even though he’s been on the receiving end of Annie’s abuse, he still longs to hear how much she loves his writing, and therefore worships him. McNee also gets a chance to show off some great physical drama and comedy chops.
But in the same way that Misery the film belonged to Kathy Bates, this production of Misery belongs to Frangione. Her Annie is volatile and disarming, homicidal and smart, a “determined woman” who will hobble a man if that’s what it takes to get him to stay. It speaks to a combination of Frangione’s masterful performance and King and Goldman’s rendering of Annie Wilkes that there are any conflicted feelings about the outcome of the chilling and bloody final confrontation.