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Six dates with Misery at the Civic Theater
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
The last time I talked to actor Robert Scrimm, he was preparing for Stones In His Pockets, a full length play with a two-person cast.
Now, several months later he’s preparing for the Civic Theater’s production of Misery, another full length play with a two person cast.
“I’m a glutton for punishment, apparently” he says.
That would be especially true in this case. In Misery, Scrimm plays Paul Sheldon, a successful novelist who wrecks his car on a remote stretch of road in the mountains of Vermont. Annie Wilkes (T.J. McCombs) comes to his rescue, and it turns out that Sheldon’s angel of mercy is also his biggest fan. Annie nurses Sheldon back to health, but things soon turn ugly when Annie learns that her favorite character, Misery, will not be making an appearance in Sheldon’s next novel. Sheldon is essentially her prisoner, and when she insists that Sheldon write another book about Misery, her methods of persuasion don’t stop at flattery. She has ways of making Sheldon write the kind of book she wants him to write.
Adapted from the Stephen King novel, Misery is a creepy, suspenseful thriller, and in the psychotic Annie and the egotistical Paul, it also has a couple of very choice roles for any actor. “I’ve played characters who have been in pain for whatever reason, but nothing quite like this,” Scrimm says, adding that what he thinks got him the part was his ability to deliver a totally uninhibited scream of pain. “I’ve done stuff that’s supposed to be scary, but this is more along the lines of what would really scare us, as opposed to monsters and stuff like that.”
“This woman has about five personalities,” says T.J. McCombs of her character, the crazy Annie Wilkes. “On the drop of a pin, I have to switch personalities. One line she’s a really nice person, the other is the most evil person you’d ever want to meet.”
Scrimm and McCombs are both veterans of Fort Wayne theater (McCombs recently played M’Lynee, in First Presbyterian’s production of Steel Magnolias) but director Phillip Colglazer says that in a two-person show, there’s a lot of pressure on the actors. “There’s a lot of responsibility and a challenge for the actors,” he says. “They literally have all the blocking and dialogue. When you have a lager cast, it’s easier to share the load.”
“The challenge of just two characters on stage, that’s huge,” says McCombs. “The two characters rely on each other, so it’s just Rob and I for a couple hours. That’s it.” To top it off, Scrimm’s character spends the entire first act stuck in bed, and the rest of the play he’s in a wheel chair. “I have pretty much all the movement in the show,” McCombs adds.
And Scrimm has to deal with keeping track of the scenes while remaining in virtually the same place for extended stretches of the show. “It’s a little disorienting,” he says.
Further complicating things is the fact that Misery is a very technically demanding, complicated show, with lots of lighting and special effects. “It moves quickly, like a film,” Colglazer says. “Scenically and costume-wise, it all has to happen at a fast speed. There’s 10 scenes in each act, so they have to move. A lot of that is done with sound and lighting.”
Scrimm actually has two roles in Misery. Before auditions, before he had even been cast, Scrimm offered his services to director Colglazer as a sound designer and composer for the play. “The guy who adapted the book, I think he definitely tried to movie it up,” Scrimm says. “I’d be really interested to know how it went originally. The sound effects are very intricate, and I can’t help but wonder if they either had a master of sound working on it, or they went out and recorded specifically a lot of the stuff they needed to make sure it worked.”
One scene needs to incorporate wind and rain, then galloping hooves, then the sound of a tolling bell as the rider stops outside a church. Finding the specific sound was sometimes difficult (one part required fingernails scratching on a coffin. “You don’t find a lot of those in disc libraries”), then editing the sounds together so they fit in the allotted space, but without overwhelming what was happening on stage, proved a challenge.
There are also plenty of special effects. In one scene, Go Bo lights project images from Sheldon’s novel-in-progress as he’s reading to Annie. “There are just so many little things that need to come together,” says Colglazer.
But at the heart of the story are the two characters, and ultimately the suspense needs to come from how believable and compelling the audience finds them and the story. McCombs says that though she was very interested in playing Annie Wilkes, she wasn’t a fan of the award-winning 1990 film version of the story. Her attitude changed when she realized the stage version stuck closely to King’s novel. “Every line I say pretty much comes directly from the book,” she says. “(the stage script) was 100 times better than the movie. It’s much more dramatic and enticing. It’s much more real.”
Colglazer isn’t worried about comparisons to the film version. “With some shows I am, but I’m not with this one,” he says. “I think with the talent we have on stage, it stands on its own.”
The Fort Wayne Civic Theater presents Misery
Arts United Center, 303 East Main Street
Performances run Fridays, September 7 and 14 and Saturdays September 8 and 15 at 8 pm, with matinee performances on Sundays 9 and 16 at 2 pm.
Tickets: $22/adults; $14/23 and under; $18/Sunday senior matinees; $20/member. Call
260.424.5220 or visit online at www.fwcivic.org for tickets.
Misery is rated R.