(The Play, Not the Emotion)
By Dana Hammer
I first read Misery, the novel, when I was ten years old, which is objectively too young,
but it is what it is. My older step sister read it as well, and we both loved it. We delighted in
shouting “Caca-doody! Caca caca, poopy-doopy!”at each other, imitating the insane fury of
Annie Wilkes. I learned a lot from that book. I learned about the practice known as “hobbling”. I learned about the horrors of snowy mountain roads. I learned that people who hate profanity are not to be trusted. But most importantly, I learned that creating art can be a dangerous proposition.
Misery is an iconic novel and movie, and I’m assuming the majority of you are already
familiar with the plot. But just in case — it’s about a famous romance writer named Paul
Sheldon, who gets into a car accident and is “rescued” by his “number one fan” Annie Wilkes.
We learn that Annie Wilkes is a seriously unhinged lady, who kidnaps and isolates Paul, forcing him to write a new book, while subjecting him to various torments and tortures. It’s awesome.
Now, we can see the horrors play out live, in front of us, in the intimate space of the
Maverick Theater in Fullerton. Reading the novel was intense. Watching the movie made us
cringe. But seeing it play out, with living human beings, mere feet away from us, will be an
exceptionally heightened experience, and one that audiences will be lucky to share.
Mark Coyan, one of the actors playing Paul Sheldon, says “I've always been a big fan of
Stephen King's novels and short stories. His writing is just so visceral. He really knows how to paint a picture with words. The idea of being in a production of one of his works has always appealed to me. Especially something like 'Misery' that is predominantly focused on the cat and mouse struggle between the two main characters. It's a great character-driven piece that actors can really throw themselves into.”
The film (upon which the play is based) is especially embedded in the American psyche.
We all can picture Kathy Bates, with her crazy-blank eyes, holding her sledgehammer. We all
can summon James Caan, badly injured, strapped to that bed. When asked if it was a challenge to step into such a well-known role, Frank Tryon says: “I'll be honest here...Paul Sheldon is indeed a pretty iconic character but JAMES CAAN?? This [is] Sonny Corleone we're talking about here. Everyone knows James Caan and everyone has seen 'Misery' so it's a bit if an uphill battle, in a sense. Getting out from under that name and that performance is certainly daunting. But after the panic subsides, you realize that you get to bring your own unique energy and stamp to the character. And it becomes exciting! All I can do is to play the role as honestly as I can and (hopefully) the performance will fall into place. It doesn't hurt that I'm surrounded by incredible talent, both onstage and off.”
(Having seen these actors perform in a variety of roles, I can personally attest that yes,
there is some incredible talent in this show.)
So, what is it about the themes in 'Misery' that keep audiences coming back for more, in
different formats? Of course, the appeal for creative types is obvious. The story itself is in many ways a metaphor for the creative process, with Annie Wilkes representing commerce,
censorship and destructive impulses. And though most of us would not want to be kidnapped, I think we all would secretly love to have fans rabid enough to want to do so.
But the story appeals to everyone, not just artists. That is because, artist or not, we
are all fans of something, and at its heart 'Misery' is about the artist-consumer relationship.
What do writers owe to their readers? What do athletes owe to the people in the stands? What do musicians owe to the people who buy tickets to their concerts? And what do consumers of entertainment owe to the ones who provide it? These are questions that thinking people must grapple with, every time they complain about George R. R. Martin’s slow writing pace, every time they criticize the off-court behavior of a favorite athlete, every time they pirate a new movie.
I’m a writer. And though I’m nowhere near as successful as Stephen King, or Paul
Sheldon, this is a story that resonates with me, and always has. What would I do if a fan
kidnapped me and forced me to write something I didn’t want to write? Would I be able to do
so? And would I be able to take sole credit for anything written under those circumstances? And if what I wrote turned out fabulous, would it be worth it?
Come see if this telling resonates with you, too.
Dana Hammer is a writer of plays, novels, short stories, and screenplays. She lives in Anaheim, where no one is interested in holding her artistic hostage.
110 E. Walnut Ave., Unit B, Fullerton CA 92832
January 2- February 26, 2023
(714) 526-7070, www.mavericktheater.com