MISERY – Written by William Goldman; Directed by Warren Sherrill.  Produced by Miners Alley Theatre Company (1100 Miners Alley, Golden) through February 11.  Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or minersalley.com. 

No one expects the audience to do research on the play they are about to see or have just seen.  But sometimes a little background makes the story even more interesting. We all know that this epic started out as a novel by Stephen King – but what was his inspiration for this deadly character. He reports that he dreamt this scenario on a cross-Atlantic trip and wrote the outline on a napkin so he wouldn’t forget it. It has been suggested that he may have had his dream inspired by the story at the time of a nurse – Genene Jones – who routinely murdered about sixty children and adult patients with injections of drugs that impaired respiration. The novel turned into a movie (Kathy Bates and James Caan); then into the William Goldman play (on Broadway played by Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf).

Regardless of who King’s inspiration was, he created an unforgettable character. Those attending the Miners Alley production of King’s story will witness an equally unforgettable character brought to a frightening life by Ms. Emma Messenger. 

It has long been agreed that Emma is one of the most talented and versatile actresses making her home in Colorado. She performs all over the state, recently in Colorado Springs and Silverthorne. She can be as funny as Carol Burnett, as domestic as Martha Stewart, as serious as Meryl Streep, and now as scary nutso as Mrs. Lovett. But, needless to say, I’m her No. 1 fan. The plot is well known but what the play adds is the possibility that Annie may have caused Paul’s original injuries herself as she admits stalking him as he finishes his current book in the Misery Chastain series. What puts her over the edge is the realization that it is the LAST in her beloved series. Then the fun begins, the manipulation, the coercion, the torture and mind games. 

Ms. Emma can be coy, menacing, hysterical, whimsical, touching all within the course of two minutes, whipping from one emotion to the next with heartfelt honesty. You just can’t see the changes coming. Her anger and deadly disappointment rise out of some lonely place deep inside her and surfaces with menacing intent before you see it coming. She has a death stare that would terrify the most defiant opponent. Yet she arouses sympathy in the most hard-boiled of observers. This is a tour de force performance; Stephen King himself would be impressed. 

It takes a strong and versatile actor to play against the whirlwind that is Annie Wilkes. Director Warren Sherrill aced in his casting of Torsten Hillhouse in the role of Paul Sheldon, author. Torsten is relatively new to Colorado having performed in Creede and Aspen and one role years ago in Arvada. But however he ended up in Golden to do this role, I hope he sticks around for a while and brings us other performances equal to this. He is a worthy determined opponent for Annie, using charm, guile, guilt, pity, anger, even a hint of romance in his arsenal of weapons against her cruelty. He is as determined to escape as she is to keep him there. His deception is so clever as to make her off balance and hopeful at times, which makes the disappointment deeper when his true feelings surface. Knowing her weaknesses, he can be as cruel as she in devious ways. It is a true match made in hell. 

The third player is the always winning Mark Collins, an innocent but suspicious sheriff who leads the search for the missing Sheldon. You can’t help but root for him to uncover the hostage situation, even knowing what danger in the hands of Annie that puts him in. But Mark plays the good ol’ boy law officer to a tee and is a hero in our minds for his determination to figure out what happened to his missing person.  

I have so many older women friends who have been scammed by men who enticed them with promises of caring for them. There were so many bits of dialogue that echoed their stories in this production. Sometimes Annie is the scammer who becomes the victim and sometimes it’s Paul.   A startling recognition of a life-like situation. 

Special kudos MUST be given to the amazing work done by the tech team for this production. Designed by Jonathan Scott-McKean, the small claustrophobic basement room Sheldon is held in is stark and inhospitable. The combination of John Hauser’s sound design and Vance McKenzie’s light design create the most realistic storms I’ve witnessed on a stage in a long time. The whole audience jumped with the first lightning flash and thunder boom that echoed through the theatre. Whenever Annie was reading her Misery novels, she played a Liberace album of mushy romantic music. But it always sounded just a little bit off kilter, not quite the right speed, just a little bit mushy, reflecting her state of mind. The costumes designed by Crystal McKenzie for the men were authentic and timely. Annie’s clothes illustrated her depressed state of mind and her hopelessness of being considered a womanly woman. Amy Arpan lends her talents as a fight choreographer to the most realistic final battle between the two opponents. One last creepy lighting effect closes the show with a whimper. 

Thank you all for your work on this amazing production. 

A WOW factor of 9!! 

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