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Kate Buddeke and John Sierros. Photo: Michael Davis/Syracuse Stage.
Kate Buddeke and John Sierros. Photo: Michael Davis/Syracuse Stage.

Theatre review: Misery at Syracuse Stage

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Misery, the stage adaptation of the Stephen King horror classic, runs through November 11 at Syracuse Stage. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the Halloween performance and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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MISERY, the Stephen King horror classic adapted for the stage by Simon Moore, is nothing if not a creepy-crawly theatre experience.  Never having read the book or seen the movie, I came to it with few pre-conceived notions other than that Stephen King stuff is essentially creepy.

The story concerns Paul Sheldon, a writer of hugely successful bodice-rippers, who has a serious car accident in the Colorado mountains.  He is found and dragged to her remote farmhouse by Annie Wilkes, his number one fan.  She proceeds to nurse him back to health and keep him captive so that he can write the next book in his MISERY series.  I don't want to give anything away, so I'll only say that Annie's idea of nursing is pretty bizarre.  Annie's line, "If I stay here I'll do something unwise," is an understatement.

Felix Cochren's farmhouse set has the feel of the Bates house in PSYCHO.  It's basically realistic but slightly off-kilter, with only the bottom half of the upper story visible and doors that lead to we're not sure where.  Samuel S. Sheehan has done a great job with an enormous number of props.

Mark Barton's lighting is excellent and creative, from the flickering TV set to lights that suddenly appear in upstairs windows to the violent thunderstorm.

I found myself constantly taking notes on the sound.  Jeremy J. Lee has created a soundscape that adds immensely to the production.  He's filled the blackouts between scenes with subtle creaks and groans, closing doors, water dripping and Paul's typewriter that all reverberate and echo.  Many unidentified sounds heard in the dark produce a chilling effect.  Technically this is a terrific production.

Unfortunately I can't say the same for the acting.  As Paul John Sierros has little to do in Act I but suffer great pain or loll in a drug-induced stupor.  Director Emma Griffin refers to, "the unfolding of Paul's psyche," but to me he seemed to be the same self-involved drug addict at the end of the play as he was in the beginning.

As for Kate Buddeke's performance as Annie, I didn't believe either her niceness or her madness.  She plays the good side of Annie as a mentally challenged child and never conveys the power of her cruel side.  At one point in Act II she says, "I don't feel real."  Well, she's not.

Director Griffin has done a good job of staging, especially the Grand Guignol scene with the axe and the blowtorch - and no, I'm not going to explain that.  I was bothered by Annie's direct address to the audience in telling her story, as it seemed to break the fourth wall unnecessarily.  The penultimate scene with the typewriter is also well-staged, but ends with a trick picture in order to provide the final surprise.  Perhaps it's in the script, but as Annie would say, that's not fair.

I realized that most of my notes were concerned with the sound, the set and the lighting, a sure sign that something's not working.  However, in spite of the two-dimensional characterizations, MISERY is entertaining.  It has plenty of gasps and chills and the technical aspects are outstanding.

On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage production of MISERY gets three and seven-eighths oranges.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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