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TUESDAY, November 11, 2008
Springfield News-Leader

Pleasure in theater's 'Misery'
by Larry T. Collins

There's something oddly compelling about watching someone suffer on stage. You sit at a safe remove from the tortuous action, surrounded by equally secure peeping Toms, while the poor sap caught in a theatrical trap acts out your worst nightmares.

Though it doesn't speak highly of human nature, this twisted pleasure may explain the appeal of such exercises in sadism as "Sorry, Wrong Number," "Wait Until Dark," "Death and the Maiden" and the current offering by Springfield Little Theatre, "Misery."

Under Nathan Shelton's assured direction, the stage adaptation of Stephen King's 1988 novel and Rob Reiner's 1990 film version emerges as a perversely entertaining battle of wits between romance novelist Paul Sheldon and his self-crowned "No. 1 Fan," Annie Wilkes.

Paul's "bodice-ripping" stories about Misery Chastain sell by the boatload, but he longs to break out of his creative rut and tackle more adventurous prose styles. Before he can submit his arty new opus for publication, a car wreck lands him in the house (and in the hands) of Ms. Wilkes who, not to put too fine a point on it, is nuts. Once she discovers that Misery has been killed off, admiration turns to anger and her protest that "Misery's what I like!" takes on a whole new meaning.

Nicole Harrell, in the part made famous by Kathy Bates, is convincing and even somewhat likable as the world's worst nurse and cruelest book critic. She expresses Annie's wildly fluctuating mood swings with conviction, veering from cheerful chatter to shrieking rage in a heartbeat. As her fallen idol, George Cron first wins us over with sarcasm and humorous understatement, then conveys Paul's emotional fragility as months of abuse wear down his mental and physical resources.

Shelton paces the story nicely, moving briskly from one short scene to the next, yet letting us feel the slow passage of time that intensifies Paul's rage. Bryan Arata's eerie music unites the episodes seamlessly, while Chuck Rogers' striking unit set and Jamie Bower's evocative lighting underline the prison-like nature of Annie's rustic home.

Signs posted on the doors of the Landers Theatre warn of the play's "graphic violence," "strobe light effects" and "excessive language" (which doesn't mean the dialogue needs trimming).

As far as I know, this is the first time that several choice four-letter words have been uttered on the Landers stage, but the expletives are certainly appropriate for a man in Sheldon's shoes or, rather, in his leg irons. They also offer a neat contrast to homicidal Annie's hypocritically prissy stance against cursing. No naughty words for her: Just speak politely, lie in bed quietly and, as she suggests to Paul late in the game, "Stay still while I cauterize."

"Misery" continues through Nov. 23 at the Landers Theatre, 311 E. Walnut St. For tickets ($23, $20, $15), call 869-1334.

Larry T. Collins reviews the performing arts for the News-Leader.

THURSDAY, September 2,1999
Springfield News-Leader

New play brings originality to story
By Larry T. Collins

If Freud was correct that anatomy is destiny, then Li’l Bit the beleaguered heroine of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “How I Learned to Drive,” starts out with two strikes against her.  Mother Nature has endowed her with a physique that, by the tender age of 11, threatens to determine the way she is viewed by others, as well as herself.
Add to nature’s bounty a crass “cracker” family that nurtures her growth by fixat­ing on the physical at the expense of the spirit, and Li’l Bit seems destined for long-term therapy.
The novelty of Paula Vogel’s moving and funny one-act drama is the skillful way she maneuvers past the predictable pit-stops of the standard “vic­timization” problem play. 
Vogel isn’t interested in ther­apeutic platitudes, but rather life’s messy complexity. She renders a world in which the sensitive issue of child abuse can be inextricably - even com­ically linked with mentorship and emotional growth.  
In the Vandivort Center The­atre’s gripping new production, director Joe Bowman strikes just the right balance between tense, emotional scenes and laugh-out-loud moments.
Through complex but clear flashbacks covering 25 years, we see formative moments in Li’l Bit’s tortured relationship with her blood family and with Peck, her uncle by marriage.
At all points along the way, Lisa Hamaker subtly conveys the girl’s many moods and attitudes, but she never reduces Li’l Bit to “the victim” pure and simple.
Likewise, George Cron delivers a rich, multi-layered performance as the inappropriately amorous Uncle Peck.  He initially strikes us as just a sly Southerner with a soupcon of “good old boy” charm.  But as the action progresses, we get to know a damaged man whose “fire in the heart” can both destroy and nurture.
When Peck confesses that he has loved Li’l Bit since the day she was born, he is telling the truth. In the heart of that tangled love lies both the tragedy and the redemptive possibility of their ambiguous relationship.
Cron and Hamaker dominate the drama, but a handful of sec­ondary characters are skillfully rendered by the “Greek Chorus” consisting of Rick Dines, Karen Payne Luna and Destiny Haney.  The strong writing and provovative subject matter of  "How I Learned To Drive" make for a memorable, must-see production.
Shows continue today through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For tickets ($7-sb), call 831-8001.

 Larry T. Collins reviews music
and theater for the News-Leader.

September 30, 2003
Springfield News-Leader

Audiences will be spellbound by
‘Turn of the Screw’

By Larry T. Collins

"Seduction" suggests both desire and danger.  The enticement may be appealing, but the entrapments can be appalling.  The psychological drama in "The Turn of the Screw," the classic tale by Henry James, turns on the ever-tightening tension between the two extremes.

Jeffrey Hatcher’s clever stage adaptation, playing at Southwest Missouri State University’s Balcony Theatre, holds true to James’ vision while bringing unspoken subtexts closer to the surface for modern audiences. When a naive 20-year old governess is hired by a suave London bachelor to take up residence in remote Bly and look after his orphaned niece and nephew, she is both frightened and thrilled at the prospect. After all, she’s read “Jane Eyre” and other gothic romances; perhaps the bachelor will become her very own Rochester. After the uncle seduces her into signing on, she arrives at the handsome estate exclaiming, “I have come to be ‘carried away!”’ Indeed, she will be, but in ways that offer scary twists and turns for the governess and her two charges, 10- year old Miles and his 8-year old sister Flora.

 In George Cron’s deft staging, two actors play all the parts, and the audience suspends disbelief with ease. Jessica Lynn Johnson is charming as the unnamed governess who tries to protect the children from what appear to be supernatural forces. Her eagerness to triumph in a romantic

Intimate space is perfect for ghostly tale 

adventure is palpable, as is her growing hysteria when the baffle with the evil spirits intensifies. Kevin Babbit shows great versatility in multiple roles. He is sardonic and serpent-like as the uncle, confusing the guileless governess by dropping the word “aversion” into their conversation like a poisoned apple to test her virgin status. 
 At Bly, he becomes Mrs. Grose, the garrulous housekeeper, by changing only his accent and mannerisms, not his formal dress costume. He also assumes the role of young Miles by shifting his posture slightly and soften­ing his voice. At one point he eerily mimes the boy playing piano, staring out at the au­dience in a trance while hyp­notically humming a melancholy tune.
There are other nicely macabre touches in this debut show for the newly redesigned Balcony Theatre on the second floor of Craig Hall. The tiny stage accom­modates the action well, while the five-row set of risers allows a full house of 104 to examine the actors’ subtly conveyed emotions in detail.
“The Turn of the Screw” has found an ideal home to work its intimate, ghostly spell.
Performances continue at 7:30 today through Thursday. For tickets, call 836-7678 or 1-888-476-7849.

Larry T. Collins reviews the performing arts for the News-Leader.