There are just three people in the cast of Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of “Misery,” a stage adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a deranged fan who kidnaps and tortures her favorite author. There’s Paul Sheldon, the writer (played by James Konicek); the local sheriff (Ben Layman); and the psychopath, Annie Wilkes (AJ Mooney).
But for a play with such a small cast, PTC’s production is among the most technically complicated the theater company has ever staged. There’s a motorized rotating set designed by Tricia Hobbs, countless props, real fire, multiple fight scenes and a blood cannon.
Yes, you read that right: a blood cannon.
The somewhat unassuming contraption essentially uses pressurized air to send fake blood through a series of tubes, out through some metal mesh at the end and onto its target. When the device is triggered, the blood goes everywhere. It’s used for a particularly violent scene in which Wilkes dispatches the aforementioned sheriff.
“We really wanted to make sure that the blood and gore felt right,” PTC artistic director Bari Newport, who is directing “Misery,” said.
Newport turned to Eric Anderson, owner of the Portland-based Shoggoth Assembly, a theater and film special effects company, to build the device.
“The blood cannon is something I’ve used in various productions over the years,” Anderson, an Old Town native, said. “When you need to hurl a lot of blood really fast, that’s the best way to do it. The metal screen in front of the tube really makes it spray. Gives it a nice aerosol effect. It’s pretty effective.”
Anderson also created a pair of gruesome-looking spandex and latex “leg sleeves” for actor Konicek, for the scenes after Annie Wilkes does something pretty horrifying to Paul Sheldon.
“It looks terribly painful,” Anderson said. “I’m really happy with it.”
There are two theatrical versions of “Misery” out there. The first, adapted by Simon Moore, premiered Off-Broadway in the early 1990s and was regularly produced in regional theaters. But in 2012, William Goldman, who penned the screenplay for the Oscar-winning 1990 film adaptation, wrote his own version of the play, and the previous version was taken out of circulation by publishers. Goldman’s version premiered on Broadway in 2015, starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf. Penobscot Theatre is just the second regional theater to be granted the rights to the Goldman version.
AJ Mooney, a PTC stalwart, has been preparing for the role of Annie Wilkes for years now, in one way or another.
“Scott Levy introduced me to this role a long time ago,” Mooney said, referring to PTC’s former artistic director, who left in 2011. “A big part of this, for me, is to be OK with the fact that Kathy Bates was an icon in this role, and to move through that and try to create this from me.”
Not only is Annie Wilkes an emotionally demanding role, it’s also a physically demanding one. Mooney has to carry Konicek around, has to fight with him, has to make it believable that the foam sledgehammer she carries around is a real one.
Though there’s certainly an element of emotional heaviness to the show, let’s not forget: It’s a Stephen King story, and it’s being performed in his hometown of Bangor, in the weeks leading up to Halloween. It’s mostly going to be a lot of fun.
“What a great distraction from the rest of the world: to be able to kill people in entertaining ways for a crowd,” Anderson said.
“Misery” runs Wednesdays through Sundays, Oct. 12 through Nov. 5, at the Bangor Opera House. Tickets are available by calling 942-3333, or by clicking here. PTC, in collaboration with local bookstore Gerald Winters & Son, will auction off three first edition copies of “Misery,” the novel, signed by Stephen King, at the performances on Oct. 14, Oct. 15 and Nov. 5; bidding starts at $250 for each book. Proceeds go to PTC. For more details about the auction, contact Gerald Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org. Winters will also host a pre-show “Misery and More” experience at 5 p.m. before the Wednesday performances, for ticket holders and die-hard Stephen King fans, at the bookstore at 48 Main St.