THEATER REVIEW: “Misery” @ Great Lakes Theater by Roy Berko

Through Sun 3/11

When Great Lakes Theater announced in June,2009, that its associate artistic director Andrew May was no longer going to be part of the company, many CLE theatergoers were shocked.

Yes, our Andrew May, who had been an artistic associate at Cleveland Play House and starred in 40 productions, before moving down Euclid Avenue to be part of GLTF. The multi-talented Andrew May, who played farce, comedy, drama and tragedy with equal skill.

May had no choice but to flee. The divorced father of two teenagers needed a gig that paid a regular salary. Cleveland had only two professional theaters at the time and he couldn’t make enough free-lancing to remain. In addition, as May said in an interview, “I think it might be about time to take the next step in my career.”

So he went out into the big wide scary world and achieved. He never became the leading Hollywood actor or a household name on Broadway, but he had a leading role in the touring production of the award-winning War Horse, which, ironically, had a run in Cleveland. His film and television credits included Big Love for HBO, Duet and 227 for FOX, Striking Distance, Columbia Pictures and Shades of Gray and The Babe Ruth Story, both for NBC. He received the Joseph Jefferson Citation in Chicago for his portrayal of William Shakespeare in A Cry of Players.

But fortunately for locals, May has decided to return and is now starring in GLT’s Misery. He will also will be in Macbeth in March, and word is out that he will also be around for the fall repertoire productions later this year.

As for Misery, it’s a psychological horror thriller based on Stephen King’s 1988 novel, which was made into a 1990 film credited with being one of the most recognized “scare” flicks of all time, and for which Kathy Bates won an Academy Award as best actress. The book was also made into a play and a “feel bad” musical. The American stage production by William Goldman was performed in New York in 2015 as a limited-run production that ran about four months.

The story centers on Paul Sheldon, a noted writer of Victorian-era romance novels involving Misery Chastain. Sheldon, a man of habit, always finished his novels at a quaint, out-of-the-way inn in Colorado, smoking one cigarette and having a glass of Dom Perignon.

Unfortunately for Sheldon, he decides to take a drive, runs into a snow storm, loses control of his car and winds up in an off-the road crash. He is “saved” by Annie Wilkes, a local who is the writer’s “number one fan.” One can only wonder if Wilkes forced him off the road so she could claim him to be her own, or whether it was an accident.

Whatever, Annie, a former nurse, pries open the car door, brings Sheldon back to her isolated home, sets his broken legs, plies him with pain killers, nurses him back to health and makes him a captive. When Annie finds out that Sheldon has killed off Misery Chastain, Annie’s favorite character in the just-released book, she goes ballistic, demanding that he write a follow-up and bring Misery back to life.

In the process of his confinement Sheldon realizes that psychotic Annie has no intention of letting him go. What follows, which includes the famous crippling of Sheldon by a sludge-hammer wielding Annie, is an exciting ending which leaves the audience unnerved.

The acting quality of the GLT production, under the direction of Charles Fee, is outstanding. Kathleen Pirkl Tague is perfect as the deranged Annie. You would not want to find yourself in a dark alley with Tague. She is one crazy, scary nutcase. Nick Steen is believable as Buster, the local sheriff, who pays dearly for being too inquisitive.

It’s wonderful to see Andrew May on a local stage. He is totally believable as the hobbled, pain-ridden Paul Sheldon. He nicely textures the performance, even getting a few painful laughs in the process.

The staging has some production issues. Gage Williams’ set fits the visual requirements of the story well, but it creates practical issues. One wonders how Sheldon manages to move from the upper to the lower level and vice versa in a wheelchair. Also, since we are told over and over about the vast amount of snow, the outside area of the house is void of any of the white stuff during the entire show. As for the sound and lights, the sound of thunder is aptly terrifying, but lightning and thunder during a snowstorm? The sound of the cars’ arrivals and exits are not consistent. Then there is the questionable trajectory of the blood following the gunshot.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: In spite of some technical issues, Misery is well worth seeing. The acting is of the highest level and it’s nice to see Andrew May on a CLE stage once again.

Misery runs through Sun 3/11 at the Hanna Theatre. For tickets call 216-664-6064 or go to

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle]

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