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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

October 19, 2023 Issue
PART 7 (October 14, 2023)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


PlayMakers Rep's Rendition of Stephen King's
Misery Is Perfect Friday the 13th Fare

Julia Gibson stars at PlayMakers Rep as bestselling romance-novelist Paul Sheldon's super-fan Annie Wilkes (photo by HuthPhoto)

It seems predestined that PlayMakers Repertory Company's opening-night performance of Misery, William Goldman's hair-raising 2012 stage adaptation of the 1987 psychological horror novel by Stephen King, would officially open on Friday the 13th. Goldman adapted Misery from the 1990 film for which Kathy Bates won an Academy Award® and a Golden Globe.

Unlike King's earlier novels that involve supernatural circumstances, Misery centers on the all-too-human relationship between two characters: romance novelist Paul Sheldon (played at PlayMakers by Karl Kenzler) and the woman who rescues him from deadly circumstances. After finishing what he considers his magnum opus -- a novel having nothing to do with Misery Chastain, the protagonist of his wildly popular historical fiction series -- Paul leaves his rural writing retreat in Colorado during a blizzard and is seriously injured in a car accident.

Karl Kenzler stars as bestselling romance-novelist Paul Sheldon in PlayMakers Rep's production of Misery (photo by HuthPhoto)

Lucky for him, a former nurse named Annie Wilkes (played by Julia Gibson) sees his car before it is covered in snow, pulls Paul out, and brings him to her secluded rural home, where she treats his injuries and gives him pain medication.

Soon, Paul realizes that his self-proclaimed "number-one fan" never intends to release him. Annie is mentally unstable, and prone to violent mood swings, forcing Paul to indulge in her childlike whims. The plot is obviously ripe for a horror film, with shocking jump cuts and suspenseful camera angles, but live theater?

PlayMakers Rep's production of Misery stars Adam Valentine as Sheriff Buster (photo by HuthPhoto)

McKay Coble's set is a three-dimensional, life-sized model of Annie's house: a foyer; bedroom; roomy kitchen with a real sink, oven, and refrigerator; and dining/family room with floor-to-ceiling shelves holding porcelain figurines, framed photographs, and other details emanating from Annie's character. The set rotates between and during scenes, so everyone in attendance gets a full view as the two main characters reveal themselves to one another.

That the set is splendid should come as no surprise, given the history of scenic designer McKay Coble, who has worked on numerous PlayMakers (and other) productions, eight Broadway productions, and seven films, including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ghostbusters, Silkwood, and Places in the Heart.

Karl Kenzler and Julia Gibson star as Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes in Misery at PlayMakers Rep (photo by HuthPhoto)

Tao Wong's lighting is dappled, multicolored, and ominously beautiful in the twilight between scenes and perfectly ambient during the characters' interactions, illuminating facial expressions with substantial effect. At several points, lightning flashes with such instantaneous visual force that it seems that it might start raining right there in the theater.

Lighting designer Tao Wang's expertise spans Japan, South Africa, France, China, and the United States, including the "Kite Girl" segment in the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. He is expert in his use of task and accent lighting and creates a chiaroscuro in PlayMakers' production of Misery that rivals medieval paintings.

Karl Kenzler and Julia Gibson star as Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes in Misery at PlayMakers Rep (photo by HuthPhoto)

The third corner of this production's creative triangle, sound designer and composer Kate Marvin, is a New York-based sound designer, composer, and musician. Her talent for making music using "found sounds and everyday objects" is most evident in the audio-simulated crash and booming thunder that accompanies Tao Wong's lightning. The production would not be the same without her.

Julia Gibson portrays Annie similarly to Kathy Bates in the 1990 film version of Misery, which is to say convincingly -- and without the benefits of multiple film angles and takes. The way Gibson slips between Annie's childlike and Mommie Dearest personalities makes you wonder if she's not mentally disturbed in real life. (Gibson has performed in at least 18 PlayMakers Repertory Company shows as a company member, so fortunately the audience knows better.)

Karl Kenzler and Julia Gibson star as Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes in Misery at PlayMakers Rep (photo by HuthPhoto)

Karl Kenzler's New York theater, television and film career shines through his PlayMakers debut performance as author Paul Sheldon. At times modest in the glow of his fame, at others fearfully investigative in his desire to escape, Kenzler is a compelling imprisoned author. His uncomfortably realistic portrayal of the pain inflicted by Paul's severe injuries is, perhaps, his most powerful artistic tool. It doesn't hurt that, when revealed to the audience, Paul's broken legs are incredibly realistic -- thumbs up to costume designer Grier Coleman.

Director Jeffrey Meanza, who is also PlayMakers Rep's associate artistic director, should be proud of his accomplishment in PlayMakers' production of Misery. Not only are the set, lighting, sound, and costume design top notch; but the characters' inner feelings and thoughts are visible in a way that cannot be accomplished without effectively passionate direction. It's clear throughout the play that PlayMakers Rep's presentation of Misery is a team effort, and PlayMakers makes you a part of that team the minute you walk into the Paul Green Theatre. Adding this to the near-guaranteed thrill of Stephen King's scary storytelling, how can you miss it?

NOTE: Plan to arrive about 1.5 hours before the show to experience PlayMakers'
first-ever escape room, designed to mimic Annie Wilkes' basement from the play.

PlayMakers Rep's production of Misery stars Julia Gibson and Karl Kenzler as Annie Wilkes and Paul Sheldon (photo by HuthPhoto)

MISERY (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, 17-20, 22, 24-29, and 31), adapted by William Goldman from Stephen King's 1987 novel, directed by Jeffrey Meanza, and starring (in alphabetical order) Julia Gibson as Annie Wilkes, Karl Kenzler as Paul Sheldon, and Adam Valentine as Sheriff Buster (PlayMakers Repertory Company in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC-Chapel Hill's Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art). MISERY TRAILERS: and PRC VIDEOS: PRESENTER:,,,, and 2023-24 SEASON: PRC BLOG: VENUE: and DIRECTIONS/PARKING: CAROLINA TOGETHER COVID-19 PAGE: MISERY (2012 Bucks County Playhouse and 2015 Broadway Suspense Thriller):,, and WILLIAM GOLDMAN (Highland Park, IL-born screenwriter and playwright, 1932-2018):,,,, and NOTE 1: PlayMakers Rep will team up with Seed Art Share of Garner to provide FREE on-site childcare for ages 4-12 during the 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15th, show. NOTE 2: The 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22nd, show will be an open-captioned performance, with a "universal-access" live-caption unit, communicating dialog, stage directions, and sound effects. NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe and American-sign-language interpret the show's 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24th, performance. AGE RECOMMENDATION: 14+ due to gory violence. TICKETS: $20 and up ($10 students and youth), plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-962-7529 or [email protected]. PLEASE DONATE TO: PlayMakers Repertory Company.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A Durham, NC resident for 20 years, Melissa Rooney is a scientific editor, freelance writer, and author of several science-based children's picture books. She has published children's stories and verse in Highlights Children's Magazine and Bay Leaves. Rooney earned undergraduate degrees in English and Chemistry from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA; and she earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1998 from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Her stories Eddie the Electron and The Fate of the Frog form the basis of two workshops offered through the Durham Arts Council's Culture and Arts in the Public Schools (CAPS) program, through which Rooney teaches elementary- and middle-school students about electrons and atoms or sustainability and rhyme, respectively. When she isn't writing, editing, reading, teaching, or experiencing theater, Rooney volunteers as a Soil and Water Conservationist for the nonprofit Urban Sustainability Solutions. Click here to read Melissa Rooney's reviews for Triangle Review.


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