Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Palo Alto Players stage riveting 'Misery'


Paul  (Christopher Mahle) wakes up in Annie's (Maria Marquis) home. (Scott Lasky photo)

Misery is not only the name of a popular novelist’s heroine but is also the situation in which he finds himself in “Misery,” presented by Palo Alto Players.

In William Goldman’s stage adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, writer Paul Sheldon (Christopher Mahle) wakes up in the home of Annie Wilkes (Maria Marquis) after a horrendous car accident in snowy Colorado in 1987. Serious injuries have left him in great pain and unable to walk.

When Annie, who repeatedly calls herself his No. 1 fan, learns that her favorite character, Misery Chastain, has died in his next novel, she badgers him to write a sequel in which Misery has somehow survived.

Realizing that his fate lies in the hands of the increasingly unstable and menacing Annie, he starts to work on that sequel.

As her mental state continues to decline, violence ensues. For Paul it’s a life or death struggle.

The other character in the play is the sheriff, Buster (Zachary Vaughn-Munck), who stops by occasionally to see if Annie knows anything about Paul’s disappearance. She plays innocent.

Director Kimberly Ridgeway elicits the emotional nuances and calculations of the two principal characters. She also brings out the humor, which alleviates  some of the tension.

The plot has some unanswered questions, such as how Annie, a former nurse, has managed to obtain all of the medical supplies and devices that Paul needs. There are other holes, but revealing them would reveal some of the play’s devious twists.

Otherwise, all three actors fully inhabit their characters, making them believable in this unbelievable situation.

Complemented by Edward Hunter’s lighting, Gillian Ortega’s set design uses a turntable to revolve from the bedroom to the living room and the kitchen.

The sometimes ominous sound is by Samuel Fiedel with costumes by Greet Jaspaert. Dave Maier is the fight coordinator.

Because violence, obscenities and other factors give the play an R rating, Palo Alto Players says it’s not appropriate for anyone under 17. Others are likely to enjoy this riveting drama. 

Running about an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, “Misery” will continue through Feb. 4 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.