What happened to the great jive talkin’, smooth as silk Bruce Willis? Oh for the days when David Addison couldn’t shut up on “Moonlighting.” Or even when John McClain talked glib in “Die Hard.” I thought Bruce Willis’s propensity for yakking would turn his Paul Sheldon in the theatrical version of “Misery” into a wise cracker who wouldn’t be tied to a bed. I was wrong.
Luckily, Laurie Metcalf is there at the Broadhurst Theater as Annie Wilkes, Paul’s captor. Metcalf, an accomplished theater actress from Steppenwolf, known to TV audiences from “Roseanne,” is so exceptional that for a while, “Misery” seems like it might not be so bad. After all, Metcalf just fully inhabits the stage from the moment she arrives. So what if Bruce Willis is slow to catch up? You figure eventually it will all fall into place.
Unfortunately, William Goldman’s adaptation of his 1990 screenplay — directed by Rob Reiner and starring James Caan and Kathy Bates (she got an Oscar) — is too literal. The movie depended on close ups, of which there are none in the theater.
And sadly no one has told Bruce Willis what to do. The direction by Will Frears is less than what I expected. He lets Willis just sit there, or lie there, on stage, like a flounder. Sometimes he seems like he might be sleeping. Or just not interested. For quite a while, Metcalf works and works around him, hoping to get a reaction. But none are coming.
Of course, part of the problem is the play itself. As a movie “Misery” had its campy moments, and you could get away with them– and the unnatural violence– frame by frame. As a play, “Misery” just seems ridiculous, over the top, and in the end, pointless. Willis would have been better off playing Billy Flynn in “Chicago”– his daughter, Rumer, was just in that show–or as a character in “Something Rotten.” I know there’s a funny, madcap Bruce Willis lurking in there, somewhere.
No press was allowed at the opening night party Sunday night. Among the celebs in the audience were Rob Reiner, Tony Danza, Zachary Quinto and chef Tom Colicchio, according to the photo services. “Misery” is supposed to play until February 14th.
On the upside, this shows that Metcalf should be a lead in a real play, where can get a Tony. Judith Light did it. Metcalf is next. But “Misery” is not the vehicle for that.