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[Herald Review] Thriller play ‘Misery’ keeps audience on edge of seats

Actors Kim Sang-joong, Gil Hae-yeon bring gripping tension to life

Kim Sang-joong and Gil Hae-yeon star in
Kim Sang-joong and Gil Hae-yeon star in "Misery." (Group Eight)

Outside the window, it is raining heavily as lightning cracks. In the dreary atmosphere, Annie Wilkes barges into the room, her face distorted in anger, she screams, “Misery cannot be dead! How could you? You murdered her!”

Unable to control her rage, Annie almost swings a chair at Paul Sheldon, unable to move due to leg injuries.

Then suddenly in a surprisingly soft voice, she whispers: “Try to experience what pain is. Don’t even dream that someone will come and save you because nobody knows you’re here. You better hope nothing happens to me because if I die, you die.”

She leaves the house and Paul rolls off the bed. He crawls desperately to the door but draws back in pain and in agony.

Lee Il-hwa (right) plays Annie Wilkes in
Lee Il-hwa (right) plays Annie Wilkes in "Misery." (Group Eight)

The Korean version of the 2015 Broadway adaptation of the 1991 Hollywood hit, Rob Reiner's “Misery" starring Kathy Bates, based on Stephen King’s 1987 novel of the same title, returned for a third season on Dec. 24 at the M Theater of Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul.

The suspenseful story follows bestselling author Paul Sheldon, the writer of a romance novel series featuring heroine Misery, and Annie Wilkes, a former nurse and his self-proclaimed “No. 1 fan” who is obsessed with Misery.

After Annie rescues Paul from a car crash, the author is trapped at her house, crippled, and subject to Annie’s whims and maniacal obsession over his novels and himself. Paul is desperate to escape while Annie leaves no room for rescue attempts.

Seo Ji-seok plays bestselling novelist Paul Sheldon in
Seo Ji-seok plays bestselling novelist Paul Sheldon in "Misery." (Group Eight)

In the Korean production, the fear and tension of the play are brought to the stage by director Hwang In-roe, who is also well known for directing the TV series “Princess Hours.”

Hwang, who has been with the play since its Korean premiere in 2018, said he paid “more attention to details to emphasize the sense of suspense and thrill” during a press conference on Dec. 27.

The mise-en-scene created using a revolving set that transforms into three different spaces -- the bedroom where Paul is imprisoned, the kitchen and the front door area -- takes the audience to a remote town in Colorado. Even if you know the plot, the gloomy lighting, eerie music and sound effects keep the audience on the edge of their seats. But humor is inserted between too, for some needed relief.

Kim Sang-joong and Gil Hae-yeon star in
Kim Sang-joong and Gil Hae-yeon star in "Misery." (Group Eight)
Seo Ji-seok and Lee Il-hwa star in
Seo Ji-seok and Lee Il-hwa star in "Misery." (Group Eight)

Veteran actors joined the crew to bring the audience into the confines of Annie’s world.

Paul Sheldon is played by Kim Sang-joong and Seo Ji-seok, while Gil Hae-yeon and Lee Il-hwa play the role of Annie Wilkes. This is Kim and Gil’s third season playing the lead roles. Seo and Lee have joined for the first time.

“The production evolves every time we perform. For this season, the story has been condensed into a 110-minute running time,” Kim said at the press conference.

“The sound effects and lighting have changed as well to elevate the emotional tension and immersion,” he said.

Kim, a film and TV actor, said his reason for returning to theater was down to the vividness a play carries on the stage.

“Theater is different every time we do it. When I put on my best performance, I want to do it again, even better. When I’m unsatisfied with my performance, I want to try again next time.”

Gil, 58, who convincingly emanates the madness of Annie, said, “I feel that how I express her obsession and wickedness is different each season.”

“I imagine (myself) growing old together with the role (of Annie),” she said. “It would be wonderful to play Annie even at the age of 80.”

“Misery” is being staged until Feb. 5.



By Hwang Dong-hee (hwangdh@heraldcorp.com)
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