BWW Review: MISERY at Great Lakes Theater

BWW Review: MISERY at Great Lakes Theater

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle)

When Great Lakes Theater Festival announced in June, 2009, that it's Associate Artistic Director, Andrew May, was no longer going to be part of the company, many CLE theatre-goers were shocked.

Yes, our Andrew May, who had been an artistic associate at Cleveland Play House, and starred in 40 productions, before moving down Euclid Avenue to be part of GLTF. The multi-talented Andrew May, who played farce, comedy, drama and tragedy with equal skill.

May had no choice but to flee. The divorced father of two teenagers needed a gig that payed a regular salary. CLE had only two professional theatres at the time and he couldn't make enough free-lancing to remain. In addition, as May said in an interview, "I think it might be about time to take the next step in my career. He continued, "It's a gamble to just suck it up and do it, move to New York or Los Angeles, but this whole stupid career is a gamble."

So, gamble he did.

He went out into the big wide scary world and achieved. Maybe not to the degree he wanted. He never became the leading Hollywood actor or a household name on Broadway, but he had a leading role in the touring production of the award-winning War Horse, which, ironically, had a run in Cleveland.

His film and television credits included "Big Love" for HBO, "Duet" and "227" for FOX, "Striking Distance," Columbia Pictures, and "Shades of Gray" and "The Babe Ruth Story," both for NBC. He received the Joseph Jefferson Citation in Chicago for his portrayal of William Shakespeare in "A Cry of Players."

But fortunately for locals, May has decided to return and is now starring in GLT's "Misery." He will also will be in "Macbeth" in March, and word is out that he will also be around for the fall repertoire productions later this year.

For the sake of his many fans, it is hoped that he will again become a regular on local stages.

As for "Misery," it's a psychological horror thriller based on Stephen King's 1988 novel, which was made into a 1990 film credited with being one of the most recognized "scare" flicks of all time, and for which Kathy Bates won an Academy Award as best actress.

The book was also made into a London performed play and a "feel bad" musical.

The American stage production, by William Goldman, was performed in New York in 2015 as a limited run production. It starred Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf and ran about four months. Metcalf was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, while Willis's performance was termed by one Big Apple critic, as being "vacant."

The story centers on Paul Sheldon, a noted writer of Victorian-era romance novels involving Misery Chastain.

Sheldon, a man of habit, always finished his novels at a quaint, out-of-the-way inn in Colorado, smoking one cigarette and having a glass of Dom Perignon.

Unfortunately for Sheldon, he decides to take a drive, runs into a snow storm, loses control of his car and winds up in an off-the road crash. He is "saved" by Annie Wilkes, a local who is the writer's "number one fan."

One can only wonder if Wilkes forced him off the road so she could claim him to be her own, or whether it was an accident.

Whatever, Annie, a former nurse, pries open the car door, brings Sheldon back to her isolated home, sets his broken legs, plies him with pain killers, nurses him back to health and makes him a captive.

When Annie finds out that Sheldon has killed off Misery Chastain, Annie's favorite character in the just released book, she goes ballistic, demanding that he write a follow-up and bring Misery back to life.

In the process of his confinement Sheldon realizes that psychotic Annie has no intention of letting him go.

What follows, which includes the famous crippling of Sheldon by a sludge-hammer wielding Annie, is an exciting ending which leaves the audience unnerved.

The acting quality of the GLT production, under the direction of Charles Fee, is outstanding. Kathleen Pirkl Tague is deranged-perfect as the Annie. You would not want to find yourself in a dark alley with Tague. She is one crazy, scary, nut-case. In other words, Tague is terrific!!

Nick Steen is believable as Buster, the local sheriff, who pays dearly for being too inquisitive.

It's wonderful to see Andrew May on a local stage. He is totally believable as the hobbled, pain-ridden Paul Sheldon. He nicely textures the performance, even getting a few painful laughs in the process. Welcome home Andrew!

The staging itself has some production issues. Gage Williams' set well fits the visual requirements of the story, but it creates practical issues. One wonders how Sheldon manages to move from the upper to the lower level and visa-versa in a wheel chair. Also, since we are told over and over about the vast amount of snow, the outside area of the house is void of any of the white stuff during the entire show. As for the sound and lights...the sound of thunder is aptly terrifying, but lightning and thunder during a snowstorm? The sound of the cars' arrivals and exits are not consistent. Then there is the questionable trajectory of the blood following the gun shot.

Capsule judgement: In spite of some technical issues, "Misery" is well worth seeing! The acting is of the highest level and it's nice to see Andrew May on a CLE stage once again.

"Misery" runs through March 11, 2018 at the Hanna Theatre. For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org

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