Russ Hunt's Reviews
by Stephen King, adapted by Simon Moore

Theatre New Brunswick

Reviewed by Douglas Hughes for the Saint John Evening Times-Globe

To publicly repudiate the novels of Stephen King has become fashionable, especially among those who read every novel Stephen King writes, thus increasing the fortunes of one of today's most prolific producers of pop fiction.

If the Bangor-based King himself is aware of this dissimulation - and no doubt he is - he must laugh as heartily as Liberace used to laugh on his way to the bank.

King, as most of his readers are aware, first hit the best-seller lists in 1973 with Carrie which later became a roaringly successful film. Since then, he has published 26 novels, 14 of which have reached the screen, and at least one of which -- Misery -- was deftly reworked for the legitimate theatre by British dramatist Simon Moore.

It was with Moore's adaptation of Misery; that Theatre New Brunswick thrilled, chilled and titillated a surprisingly small audience last night at the Imperial Theatre in a production brilliantly managed by TNB's artistic director, Walter Learning, stunningly lit by Tim Gorman, and remarkably played by C. David Johnson (as Paul Sheldon, a successful writer of Gothic romances, and perhaps bit of a self-parody on the part of King), and by Deborah Lobban (as Annie Wilkes, a nurse in the grip of neurasthenia or worse) who make their way with admirable technical skill around a dream of a revolving set that by turns - and by turning - discloses the eerie rooms and claustrophobic corridors of an isolated farmhouse somewhere in the dreary reaches of rural Colorado.

This set, cleverly conceived by Patrick Clark, almost steals the show

Did I say that it's a dream of a set? Perhaps that should read a nightmare of a set, for there are things about it that bring to mind The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the surreal German silent film classic of the 1920s that since that era has served as a prototype of sorts for movies in which there is an emphasis on the terrible psychological and, in some instances, physical tortures to which one human being can subject another in order to ascend to a heady but near-insane sense of domination and power.

For all that, author King's taut little tale does not present itself as a clever exercise in horrific avant-gardism, but more as a black and twisted but slightly comic send-up of the genre.

Those who have read Misery or have seen its cinematic treatment know that it's about a rich, handsome, thrice-divorced and stupendously successful writer of pulp fiction who sustains broken limbs in a winter auto accident. He is rescued by a devotee of his novels who, on discovering his identity, forthwith imprisons him in her run-down shack and there tends to his needs but also repeatedly torments him with that banal question asked of all writers, "Where do you get your ideas from?"

"Oh, you know," the writer replies, "from overheard conversations, from watching the behaviour of others, from, well . . . things like that." Or words to that effect.

This fails to fully satisfy his captor's curiosity. So she sets about digging more deeply into his psyche by subjecting him to a battery of cross-examinations each one crazier and more obsessive than the last.

To reveal more of this story would be to spoil the fun for those unfamiliar with the it. I use the word "fun" advisedly here because it is not, in this instance, to be taken in its usual meaning.

Some commentators on Misery see in it a subtext that examines the kind of relationship that can arise between the reader and the writer; the desire on the part of the reader, that is, to gain intimate knowledge of the creator behind the words. It has even been suggested that it stands as a kind of metaphor for the universal search for God, or at least for answers to troubling questions that in reality have no answers.

I suppose this could be seen as a valid interpretation of the yarn. I, however, see it as a tale of possession, a theme that crops up time and again in popular Freudian-charged fiction which seeks to explain that what many people define as love is really only a madly fixated mania to overpower - or even destroy - what can never be fully understood.

Well, we knew all about that decades ago, didn't we, when it wasn't possible to turn on a radio without encountering replay after replay of a song titled "You Always Hurt The One You Love" which, for all we know, prompted a lot of folks to do just that if only to put the theory to a test.

However you choose to decipher Misery, though, it's a terrifically engaging show from all points of view.

As I left the Imperial last night I caught sight of director Learning as he stood smiling at the departing patrons somewhat in the manner of a jovial cleric bidding farewell to his satisfied parishioners. If I wasn't mistaken, he wore an expression on his craggy features that seemed to suggest an unspoken, "Gotcha, didn't I?"

Well, Walter, you got me. In fact, I believe you got all of us. And it's my guess that you'll get many more tonight and before the production comes to a close on Saturday with performances at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

For further information and tickets check with the Imperial box office and other familiar outlets around town. To charge by phone, call 633-9494 or 657-1234.

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