The Idaho Shakespeare Festival production of Misery on June 12 opened with a signature juxtaposition: As Managing Director Mark Hofflund gave the pre-show announcements, a heavily bandaged, seemingly unconscious man was wheeled onto stage on a bright yellow dolly. Hofflund continued straight-faced as stagehands deposited the man—the play's main character, famed author Paul Sheldon—unceremoniously on a single bed, then proceeded to add sheets and pillows, making the bed as though it were empty.
The laugh this bit produced from the audience was the first of many, but it was tinged with a dark edge that became more pronounced as the play continued to turn human suffering into comedy. Misery, which will run in repertory at ISF through Sunday, July 29, is based on the 1987 novel by horror legend Stephen King, which was the origin of the 1990 film starring James Caan and Kathy Bates. It spins the tale of Sheldon, bedridden by a recent car crash, and Annie Wilkes, the nurse who fashions herself as his savior but is soon revealed as his captor.
"This is a story about fame, and loneliness, and love...all the typical horrors of life," ISF Director Charles Fee wrote in the night's program. The truth of that is a testament to Kathleen Pirkl Tague's performance as Wilkes; despite her descent from besotted rescuer to sadistic avenger, any truly fanatical fan can find just a grain of relatability in her character, a realization as eye-opening as it is unpleasant.
Andrew May, playing Sheldon, was also top-notch. He brought the audience easily into his character's traumatized headspace, conveying bafflement, fear and disgust—not to mention ever-escalating pain as his escape attempts failed—even when no dialogue was scripted. Though May and Pirkl Tague were nearly always alone on stage, the toxic relationship formed between their characters, and the edge-of-your-seat drama it created, had no trouble filling every inch.