Off-kilter ‘Misery’ is a thriller at Dominion Stage

A theatrical experience that shouldn’t be missed—no matter how many times you've seen the movie.

It was a blustery, chilly, rain-drenched Friday night to travel to the Theatre on the Run in Arlington to see the outstanding production of Misery by Dominion Stage.

It’s William Goldman’s play based on Stephen King’s novel, and I was all too familiar with the story—about a gothic romance novelist trapped in the house of his “number one fan” after a car accident on a snowy night. The movie version is on my “no watch” list—it’s one of the several movies that my partner has viewed just too many times. If I spot James Caan at a typewriter or Kathy Bates with a sledgehammer, I will leave the room.

Robert R. Heinly as Paul and Ellice McCoy as Annie in ‘Misery.’ Photo by Cleo Potter.

However, I had never seen a stage adaptation of Misery—and my partner eagerly agreed to join me.

This production was promising from the start. Racing into the black box theater, I was struck by the staging. Eerie scaffolding. Torn canvases. A worn desk. And then, a twin bed, slightly off-center, and a body, covered by a quilt. It was a bold representation of a cabin in the Colorado woods trapped in a time gone by. This is the set and property designer Paul Mumford’s first show with Dominion Stage, and his designs perfectly set the off-kilter, ominous mood.

This production turned out to be an edge-of-your-seat night with Robert R. Heinly as Paul Sheldon and Ellice McCoy as Annie Wilkes.

The manic glee from McCoy was at turns flirtatious, sinister, and deadly—it’s a command performance by this veteran actor of film and stage, who is making her DMV theater debut with Misery. In her baggy, oversized, outdated dresses and lumpy sweaters (costumes by Anna Marquardt are just perfect), her Annie Wilkes approaches her “Mr. Man,” at first solicitously, nursing him, doling out pain medication for his broken bones, and he is appreciative. His male ego is stroked by her flattery of his “literary genius.”

For his part, Heinly transforms into the role. In bed or in a wheelchair for most of the play, he embodies an internally and externally broken man, an author torn over his hack writing and now in excruciating physical pain. He realizes that to survive, he must save himself from his “number one fan” and write yet another novel based on his Misery series, an ironic name for a play brimming with dramatic irony. Ultimately, it’s the tension between this Annie Wilkes and Paul Sheldon, and their masterful moments of dark humor and gripping, psychological horror, that captivate the stage.

TOP: Ellice McCoy as Annie and Robert R. Heinly as Paul; ABOVE: Ellice McCoy as Annie in ‘Misery.’ Photos by Cleo Potter.

The brief appearances by the town’s Sheriff (nicely played by Danielle Taylor) to investigate the missing author add another layer of intrigue. With direction by Maggie Mumford and evocative lighting and sound design by Cleo Potter and Ruben Vellekoop respectively, this is a thrilling production.

Misery produced by Dominion Stage is a theatrical experience that shouldn’t be missed—no matter how many times you might have watched the movie version. My partner agrees with me on this one.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, no intermission.

Misery plays through November 4, 2023 (Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m.),
presented by Dominion Stage performing at Theatre on the Run, 3700 S. Four Mile Run, Arlington, VA. Purchase tickets ($25) online.

The playbill for Misery is online here.

COVID Safety: masks optional.


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