116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The actors provide the thrills, the action provides the chills in “Misery,” onstage through Oct. 30 at Theatre Cedar Rapids.
But this drama, based on Stephen King’s 1987 tale that terrorized on page and screen, isn’t playing out on TCR’s main stage, where audiences can keep a safe distance from the creep show.
Oh no — it’s playing out in the subterranean Grandon Studio, a black-box theater where if the people in the front row don’t watch out, their toes might get run over by a wheelchair.
Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
When: To Oct. 30; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday; sold out through Oct. 28
Tickets: $37 adults, $17 students; TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or theatrecr.org/event/misery/2022-10-14/
“Misery” is set in 1987 in a shabby, secluded house where nothing is chic. Bestselling romance novelist Paul Sheldon (Matthew James) has holed up in a Colorado Rocky Mountain inn for five weeks, finishing his latest tome, which departs from his Victorian-chaste bodice-ripper series about Misery Chastain. And now he’s ready to depart for his New York City home.
But Mother Nature has other ideas, and sends a wicked snowstorm that closes all the roads, takes down phone lines and sends the writer’s car plummeting down a ravine.
Miraculously, his self-proclaimed “Number One Fan,” Annie Wilkes (Carrie Pozdol), finds him, rescues him and props him up in a guest bedroom that no doubt has never housed a guest.
After four days, he regains consciousness, physically battered beyond belief, with compound fractures in both legs, a dislocated shoulder that Annie has popped back in place, and unspeakable pain that’s only going to worsen as the days drag on.
Not only is Annie a former nurse intent on healing her idol, she’s also mentally ill, teetering between adoration and rage at her patient.
James, 44, of Iowa City, has established himself many times over as one of the best actors treading the boards on Corridor stages, although this role largely keeps him off his feet.
Pozdol, 45, of Cedar Rapids, is a relative newcomer to the local scene, but every inch James’ match. The way she turns on a dime from yelling at James to ruffling his hair and calling him saccharine pet names, is nothing short of brilliant.
James is brilliant, as expected, especially when he flops himself out of bed and onto the floor, screaming in agony as he tries to drag himself out of his bedroom cell, in hopes of finding his way out of this nightmare when Annie leaves to run an errand.
Annie isn’t going to just let her guest rest on his drug-addled laurels. Incensed by the profanity in his new book, she insists he write another “Misery” book. Imagine her horror when she discovers that won’t be possible.
But nothing is impossible in Annie’s world, so she buys Paul an antique typewriter — and the wrong kind of paper — which is the wrong thing for Paul to point out. Annie begrudgingly acquiesces, buys the right kind of paper, and orders him to write a new “Misery” book, devoid of the “cockadoodie” language rife in the just-finished book she’s determined will never see the light of day.
Their cat-and-mouse game plays out in horrifying fashion, choreographed expertly by director Rachel Korach Howell in a setting perfectly appointed by designer Jason “Blue” Herbert and an eerie soundscape by Claire Boston, Herbert and Howell.
Add in some gruesome blood and gore effects by Matthew Clay, and Howell and company give viewers plenty of reasons to howl. Gasps and unbridled utterances rippled through Friday’s sold-out audience when Annie brought out two key props. Many folks obviously were familiar with the tale and its gruesome twist.
And pity the poor sheriff, Buster (CJ Mobberley), who wanders into the fray, searching house to house for the missing writer.
As the action hurtles through a roller-coaster ride ready to derail at every turn, it ends in a most enigmatic way. Is it reality or reverie? With several confusing moves through the playing space, I suspect Howell intends to make the audiences question what they’ve just seen. It certainly made for lively lobby conversation opening night.
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