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'Misery' by William Goldman. Based on the novel by Stephen King

Now onstage at the Imperial Theatre, Saint John, New Brunswick

Credit: Andrew Finlay. Sarah Rankin as Annie Wilkes

Aaron Kropf

Most people are familiar with the film version of ‘Misery’ with James Caan as Paul Sheldon and Kathy Bates as “number one fan”, Annie Wilkes. Many came to the Imperial Theatre because they anticipated a particular scene in this production, and I’m sure they weren’t disappointed. It’s always tricky to be a part of something that so many people either already know or have an impression. Nobody wants to be compared to what has come before them; the exception might be if it has a poor reputation. Sarah Rankin (Annie Wilkes), Stephen Tobias (Paul Sheldon), Bob Doherty (Sheriff Buster) and director Dean Turner have nothing to worry about there!

For anyone unfamiliar with the film or the novel by horror master novelist Stephen King Misery, playwright William Goldman compiles the story of famed writer Paul Sheldon and his “number one fan” Annie Wilkes. Through a raging snowstorm, Wilkes follows her favourite author of the Misery Chastain stories from the inn Paul goes to write all his novels (an author full of habits and superstition). Luckily, or perhaps not for Sheldon, Wilkes saves his life after an automobile accident. During his recovery, the latest ‘Misery’ novel is released. Annie isn’t happy with the way the novel ends, which quickly makes the saviour into a hostage taker.

Brian Goodwin’s compact set design increases the tension and confinement felt by Paul and the audience, thanks to the small area of the stage that the set takes up. Thanks to the revolve that holds up the set, it moves quickly from the bedroom to the hallway, to the kitchen, and finally to the front of the house. Not only does it make the movement from one part of the house quick and seamless, but it also adds to the show's suspense.

Saint John Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Stephen Tobias returns to the stage as writer Paul Sheldon. It was refreshing to find out he was back on stage the day before the show's opening (thanks to a social media post by the company); it came without the typical fanfare that comes with most artistic directors taking to the stage after a hiatus. The role of Sheldon is a difficult one. For much of the show, his movement is restricted to a bed. It’s a challenge to act like you’re in pain. At times, director Dean Turner seems to ignore this vital component to move the story along. That aside, Tobias’s Paul Sheldon genuinely drew the audience into the horrific predicament he finds himself in.

‘Misery’ hinges on the psychotic Annie Wilkes, aptly played by Sarah Rankin. Wilkes is a complex, sometimes challenging character, thanks to the film and Bates's performance. It foremost requires the audience to believe initially that she is full of good intentions, genuinely wanting to help Sheldon recover so that he can write. Rankin can ramp up the tensions at the turning point in the show as she feels she must do everything in her power to get Sheldon to bring back her beloved character. The moments Wilkes’ rage peaks are the times Rankin shines in this production.

It is a delight to see Stephen Tobias tackle such a challenging role on stage. It’s equally delightful to see Sarah Rankin shine as she makes Sheldon’s world smaller and smaller. These two performers command the stage during the brief 1-hour and 40-minute production. If you think you know this story because of the novel or the film, you don’t know Misery until you’ve experienced it live on stage.

See it.

The production runs until March 23 at the Imperial Theatre, 12 King Square S. Saint John, New Brunswick.

For tickets: 1-800-323-SHOW or

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