Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of “Misery” is a stunningly suspenseful staging of Stephen King’s novel and a triumph for the technical team that works behind the scenes.
Director Bari Newport’s vision for the show is perfectly executed by Tricia Hobbs (scenic designer), Scout Hough (lighting designer), Kevin Koski (costume designer) and Katie Guzzi (sound designer) at the Bangor Opera House. The revolving set that shows the frame of the house with a bedroom on one side, kitchen and front porch on the other and a hallway in between menacingly looms over the audience.
The lighting not only perfectly illuminates the actors but casts just the right shadows and adds to the mounting tension of the play. The costumes help define the characters, but it is the variety of sound and how it’s used like a movie soundtrack that makes “Misery” truly spooky and spine tingling.
The blood splattering is confined to the end of the show. While it may be the most spilt on the Opera House stage in a long time, it does not rise to the level of stomach churning.
The script, written by William Goldman, who adapted the screenplay for the film of King’s 1987 novel, carefully piles on the suspense. Newport treats the dialogue almost like a musical score and plays each note perfectly as the story of one fan’s obsession with her favorite writer turns deadly.
James Konicek as bestselling author Paul Sheldon and A.J. Mooney as Annie Wilkes, the fan who saves his life after a car crash, are perfect dance partners. They bob and weave, waltz and foxtrot around and with each other as one character tries to control the other.
Konicek of Washington, D.C., gives a riveting performance as the captive determined to survive. The actor’s portrayal of Sheldon’s escape attempts are harrowing for theatergoers.
The revolving stage lets the audience see him physically struggle from the bed to a wheelchair, through the hall and into the kitchen toward the door to freedom and back. It is a nail-biting sequence that solidifies the bond between Konicek and the audience.
Mooney is delightfully menacing as Annie. Her “angel of mercy” routine slowly turns to control as she doles out and withholds pain pills. Her behavior escalates in spurts and starts without warning. Mooney rarely signals that change to theatergoers, so Annie’s mood swings are as surprising and frightening for the audience as they are to Sheldon. Mooney’s performance in “Misery” is as fierce and dynamic as was her portrayal of Barbara, the “responsible” daughter in “August: Osage County,” produced at PTC in 2015.
Newport has upped the bar for the technical side of productions during her tenure as producing artistic director at PTC. Some previous productions, launched before Newport gathered the current technical team, have looked as if the director of the show and the people on the design team all had different visions of how it should be executed. The result was a muddled mess technically.
Under Newport’s leadership that has slowly but very successfully evolved. “Misery” will be remembered as one of PTC’s finest and most satisfying productions because the complexity of the set, light, sound, costumes, along with the characters, form a kind of symphony that plucks at theatergoers’ emotions, making their hearts pound and the hairs on the backs of their necks stand up.
“Misery” will be performed through Nov. 5 at the Bangor Opera House, 131 Main Street, Bangor. For information, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.