LATHAM — The power of music to set the mood of a movie or a play is incontrovertible (one could start and end with “Jaws” to prove the point), and such is the case with Alex Dietz-Kest’s brilliant sound design for Curtain Call’s appealing “Misery.” Because of the play’s genre, I was actually reminded of some of the edgy scores for Hitchcock movies — so hats off first to Dietz-Kest’s choices.
And Lily Fossner’s lighting design aptly complements the soundscape: a gloomy room with window blinds askew, beyond which we can tell there’s a gleaming winter sun.
We’re in Silver Creek, Colorado, in the family home of Annie Wilkes (Amanda Dorman), who is now hosting the shattered body of popular romance novelist Paul Sheldon (Kevin Gardner). Annie couldn’t be happier that Paul’s car went off the road in a snowstorm and tumbled into a ravine because she, who just “happened” to be driving behind him, was able to pull him from the wreckage and bring him to her home for convalescence. How fortunate, also, that she was once a nurse!
It becomes quickly apparent to us that Annie’s repeated declaration that she is Paul’s No. 1 fan comes at a cost: In order to be close to her idol, she makes him dependent on her for pain relief, food and round-the-clock care of all sorts.
In short, he’s her prisoner.
As Paul gains strength, he begins to realize — with horror — the scope of her obsession with him and a series of books he has written about a character named Misery. Could he ever imagine such real-life misery? His injuries notwithstanding, he plots his escape, and a cat-and-mouse game then ensues until — until — well, you’ll have to see for yourself.
Based on the novel by Stephen King and then on his own screenplay, William Goldman’s 2012 stage script features a single set and three characters, the third being Sheriff Buster (Grant Miller), a gentle, unsuspecting soul who comes to Annie’s house to inquire about the missing writer.
By my lights the production succeeds in one interesting way and falls short in another.
As a character study of a middle-aged woman in the throes of mental illness, it is absorbing. We get clues about Annie’s life: she’s divorced; she talks to God; she lives alone on a farm; she’s lost in the fictional life of a 19th-century character; she’s skilled at lying; she’s a stalker; and she’s surrounded by photos of dead relatives hung on walls papered with patterns from a bygone era (evocative scenic design by Garett Wilson, props by Rebecca Gardner).
Lonely? You bet, evident when Paul plans a romantic meal in order to poison her and she changes from her overalls and boots to a purple dress that belonged to her mother and unlocks the single braid into a girlish hairstyle — shades of Baby Jane! (The costumes are by Beth Ruman.)
Dorman is superb at ringing all of the changes in Annie’s behavior — changes, say, from solicitousness to rage to disappointment — that occur in seconds. In a bright, reasonable voice, she tells Paul how and why she’s going to assault him, the disconnect between her tone and her actions frightening.
Where the production, under the direction of CCT veteran Cindy Bates, falls short for me is in the crackle: It’s absent. No matter the role, Gardner is a natural onstage: I always believe his character’s every word. And for some of the early action Paul’s sophisticated and witty comments work because he doesn’t know what’s in store for him.
But I missed Paul’s dawning bewilderment, terror, grief and fury that must overtake him. Could Goldman have given the character (and actor) more to work with? Perhaps. But I wanted somehow to be on edge more than I was.
I wanted what the music promised.
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre,1 Jeanne Jugan Lane, Latham
WHEN: Through Jan. 29
HOW MUCH: $30
MORE INFO: 518-877-7529; curtaincalltheatre.com
Note: Masks required