Misery | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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Misery, Pyewacket, at Heartland Studio Theater. The writing in Stephen King's 1987 best seller is frequently overwrought, amateurish, and metaphorically jumbled. With its tissue-thin characters, creaky plot conventions, and enough descriptive prose to make Dickens look like Hemingway, Misery earns its title several times over as romance novelist Paul Sheldon is rescued from a car accident and held captive in the remote cabin of Annie Wilkes, serial killer and his "number one fan."

Adapting King's novel for the stage, Simon Moore follows William Goldman's lead in the 1990 screenplay, cutting the writerly excess to concoct a tense, spare cat-and-mouse game between the two protagonists. And while the melodramatic extremes of King's overly convenient plot can't be eliminated entirely, they're softened enough to seem almost charming.

Even better, Pyewacket players Kate Harris and Mark A. Steel walk a satisfying line between parody and Grand Guignol. Director David Zak turns in his most efficient, concentrated work in years, coaxing nuanced, playful performances from his cast without undermining the story's brutality (the infamous hobbling scene is triumphantly gruesome). Though Steel struggles at first to convey the life-and-death stakes of Paul's predicament, ultimately he attains horrifying heights. But what really gives this potential cartoon a constant sense of giddy danger is Harris's meticulous, hair-trigger performance as Annie.

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