CONWAY — Stephen King is the modern master of macabre, so with Halloween in the air, it only seems natural to turn to him for some scares on the stage. “Misery's Child,” M&D Production's original adaptation of King's novel “Misery” directed by Ken Martin, brings one of author's most psychological disturbing tales vividly to life.
Of all King's work, “Misery,” with its tale of an author being trapped and tortured by a psychotic self-proclaimed number one fan, seems the most natural fit for a fiendish evening of theater. With only two actors, “Misery's Child” manages to keep the audience captivated.
After a brief prologue in which romance novelist Paul Sheldon (Richard Russo) receives an award, we hear the sounds of a car accident. In the next scene Paul is bedridden and being tended by his savior, the overly cheery Annie Wilkes (Janette Kondrat), his top fan. At first Annie seems like a well-intentioned, if somewhat kooky nurse, but it doesn't take long for Paul or the audience to discover how unstable and deranged Annie is.
Any number of cliches could be used to describe the experience of seeing “Misery's Child,” which opened last night at Your Theatre in North Conway and is running Thursday through Saturday until the end of the month. It'll put you on the edge of your seat. It'll make your skin crawl. These phrases are accurate, but don't do justice to the caliber of the work in this show.
Kondrat's performance is truly and often deeply unsettling much in the same way Kathy Bates was in her Oscar-winning portrayal of the role in the 1990 film. Kondrat, who says she has avoided watching the film, matches Bates iconic performance. They way she turns in a moment from sunny and nearly childlike to angry, spiteful and violent is seamless and disturbing. There's an unrelenting tension as you never know what will set Annie off next.
In playing Annie, Kondrat gives a risky performance. She goes for big emotions with intense highs and lows. In a scene showing Annie in a profoundly depressed mood, Kondrat creates an almost entirely different character and yet it springs naturally from the rest of her performance. It is astounding work.
Russo's role is less showy, but in many, and certainly different, ways just as challenging. His performance is almost entirely based on reaction. Russo gives a restrained and precisely timed performance. It is also a quiet performance. His subtle, controlled facial expressions say everything when the dialogue is scant. We see fear, agony, confusion, dread and even joy in Paul's small victories.
The show also gives Russo some rich monologues where Paul talks to himself when he is left to his own devices trying to figure out if there is any way out of Annie's trap. The most harrowing and brilliantly performed of these is when Paul is left stuck in bed with no food, water or medication for two weeks. It is difficult to watch.
Beyond the psychological games played between Paul and Annie, which are in turns disturbing and darkly comic, “Misery's Child” is also a well-observed look at the craft of writing. Russo does a good job of portraying the process of writer as Paul is forced to write a new book just for Annie.
These performance are housed in a beautiful rural house set designed by the consistently amazing Deborah Jasien. The lighting design by Mark DeLancey aids in creating a mood of dread when necessary. The sound design by Martin and Elaine Kondrat utilizes creepy music and effective use sound effect, particularly during the car crash, to help create an atmosphere of unease.
For those who enjoy the thrill of being scared, “Misery's Child” is a fantastic night out and one that will stick with you long after the final bows.
For more information and reservations call 662-7591.