Friday, March 3, 2023

"Misery" at Yellow Tree Theatre

If you're looking for an on-stage delicious thriller, that's creepy but also funny at times, and beautifully acted, look no further than Misery currently playing at Yellow Tree Theatre's cozy Osseo theater. Stephen King's 1987 novel was adapted into the popular 1990 movie, for which Kathy Bates won an Oscar. It was adapted into a play (by original screenwriter William Goldman) just ten years ago or so. It's been a long time since I've seen the movie and I don't think I ever read the book, but I knew the general gist of the story. Still, I was delightfully surprised at some of the twists and turns in the play. The tension in Yellow Tree's intimate space is palpable, and the excellent cast and creative team handily take us on this terrifying (but also fun) journey. 

In case you haven't seen the movie in a while (like me), here's the general story: author Paul Sheldon is in a car accident (or is it?) in rural Colorado, where he's been writing his latest novel. He's "rescued" by Annie, who calls herself his "number one fan" (scarier words have never been spoken). Except that Annie's fandom borders on obsession, and she lies to Paul about the conditions of the road and the phone line in order to keep him there under her control. While he's held up there, the latest in his Misery series of novels is released and Annie excitedly reads it. Until she reads the death scene of the title character, and then things take a turn. Already showing signs of abusive control towards Paul, she now forces Paul to unwrite Misery's death in a new novel, threatening to withhold pain medication and food. Things go from bad to worse, as Paul tries to escape and fails. And how this story ends... well, one good thing about having a bad memory is that you can watch something again and be surprised all over again.

Paul (Bill McCallum) and Annie (George Keller)
(photo by Tom Wallace)
#TCTheater actor John Catron turns his hand to directing here, and if this is an example of his direction work, I hope to see more of it. The story is perfectly placed, the tension slowly builds throughout, and necessary moments of dark humor punctuate the intense story. As Paul, Bill McCallum is lying in bed when the audience enters the theater and spends half of the play there, later transitioning to a wheelchair and desperately rolling himself one-armed around the space. He's so believable as this character, almost understated, until Paul reaches the end of his patience and we see what he's been holding back. George Keller is fantastic as Annie, starting off as a gleeful almost childlike woman, but with a hint of the sinister. She's flustered and funny as Annie awkwardly gushes over this man she's long loved from afar who is now in her house, then angry and abusive when things don't go her way. Makes one wonder what her life was like before this that brought her to this point. Rounding out the strong cast in the small but pivotal role of the sheriff is Valencia Proctor.

nothin' to see here sheriff (George Keller and
Valencia Proctor, photo by Tom Wallace)
You may have heard that there were some issues with the sound system on opening weekend, but I'm happy to report that seems to have been fixed, thanks to donations and ingenuity. Between scenes music keeps things creepy, as do the sound effects. Scenic designer Justin Hooper makes the most of the small stage, with the bedroom in the center surrounded by a half wall (and even half doors), behind which we can see the rest of Annie's house, including the kitchen where she prepares Paul's food and serves a romantic (?) dinner. The lighting design helps us know where to direct our attention, with flashes of lightning and other effects amping up the tension. Paul is dressed mostly in sleepwear, and Annie's simple prairie dresses reinforce her childlike quality, hair in two braids that get more and more messy as the situation goes downhill. And kudos to fight choreographer Mike Lubke for creating some scarily realistic altercations between our two lead characters. (Sound design by Jeff Bailey, costume design by Samantha Fromm Haddow, lighting design by Kathy Maxwell.)

A fan kidnaps her favorite author and forces him to write a book to her liking - it's an appealing idea; what Game of Thrones fan doesn't want to lock George R.R. Martin in a room and make him finish what he started over 30 years ago? And I certainly have my literary character obsessions whom I never want to die (Diana Gabaldon better hire a team of bodyguards if she ever kills, or even breaks up, Claire and Jamie). But in the hands of Stephen King via William Goldman via the Yellow Tree team, these almost relatable impulses of a fan become a nightmare. But an entertaining one that's fun to be on the outside of. See Misery at Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo now through March 12. If you want to make a night of it out in the 'burbs, dining options in Osseo are limited but nearby Maple Grove has a plethora of choices.


Join me and my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers for a special event at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres! Get $20 off the ticket price for the March 4 matinee performance of the regional premiere of the super fun and heart-warming musical The Prom, and stick around after the show for a talk-back with some of the cast. Read my review of The Prom here, find more info about the event in the Facebook event here, and purchase discount tickets using code TCTB1 or by clicking on this link (discount valid for any performance through March 12).