Stephen King’s ‘Misery’ gets the Jobsite treatment
The war of wills between romance novelist Paul Sheldon and his off-the-rails “fan” Annie Wilkes became part of American popular culture with director Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation of a book by horror master Stephen King.
Both book and movie were called Misery. It refers to the heroine of Sheldon’s bodice-rippers (her name is Misery Chastain), and it also refers to … that which captive Paul endures at the hands of bat-crazy Annie.
Now there’s Misery the stage play, adapted from King’s bestseller by William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplay for the Reiner film.
Jobsite Theatre, the resident professional company of Tampa’s David A. Straz Center, opens the play Friday (following previews Wednesday and Thursday). Jobsite’s artistic director David M. Jenkins, a familiar face as both actor and director, is playing Paul. The role of Annie is handled by Summer Bohnenkamp, the Straz Center’s Vice President of Programming and Marketing. She and Jenkins also happen to be married.
For those who are themselves married to book or movie, theater director Paul Potenza has just one word for you: This is live theater.
That’s the difference. “It’s not put it on pause and go to the refrigerator,” he says. The New York Post refers to the show as “popcorn theater … a carnival ride that piles on the twists and thrills.”
“The book is very different than the movie,” Potenza says, “and the play uses aspects or some of both. One might find the book more in the horror genre, but this is more like a psychological thriller.”
There are, Potenza acknowledges, “things that happen in it that are absolutely necessary for the story, that people are waiting for.” Did we say sledgehammer?
Live theater, of course, doesn’t have the luxury of closeups, long shots, two-shots or dissolves. It’s all right there on the stage.
It’s the same story, just told a different way. “There’s a challenge in all aspects of this,” says Potenza. “There’s one guy that’s basically bedridden – how do you make that interesting? We do have the luxury of lights and sound.
“And the soundtrack that Jeremy Douglass designed – I wanted a percussive soundtrack. So that it’s not pieces taken from this movie or that, or somewhere else. We built our own music. Jeremy did a great job with it.”
Music, he points out, can build drama. “There are parts in this play where the music is made by things you would only find in a kitchen. And it works. It’s not just some ‘Hey, that’s a cool idea.’ And one of the percussion pieces we added was a typewriter.”
Potenza has appeared in dozens of Jobsite plays over the years – most recently, he was in Shockheaded Peter. And he began Misery rehearsals almost the same day he closed the Tampa Repertory Theatre production of The Elephant Man (he played the title character).
The director admits he’s feeling more than a little pressure. “It’s not just about ‘the play’ – David and Summer are two of my greatest friends,” he says. “And I’ve worked onstage with my wife Roz before – it changes the household.
“I wanted to be good for them. So besides just wanting the play to be good, and you want it to be successful financially, these are two great friends that I love. And I want to deliver for them.”
Good things can – and frequently do – happen when creatives get in a room together. “Everyone’s got their opinions about certain things, and having to put your foot down with your friends is odd, but I’m pretty generous,” Potenza declares. “I look for help and answers a lot.
“Certainly having David in the room – there’s your producer/artistic director – and as much as I’d just like him to have the acting experience, there’s times I lean on him.
“I ask ‘Do you have an opinion about this?’ And David has sometimes offered his opinion without being asked. But he always winds up saying ‘I need to stay in my lane.’
“We’ve been working together for 25 years. He was the kid, and I was like this older guy who had done a lot of theater. And he used to lean on me for opinions, places and things. He doesn’t need me any more. He is so smart, he knows those spaces so well, I’d be silly not to lean on him.”
Find Misery tickets and info here.