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Misery, My Foot! 

Off-Tryon Theatre brings King's story to life -- er, death

Zillions of Stephen King fans are gluttons for the suspense monarch's endless smorgasbord of horrors and frights. Thanks to the fecundity of the novelist's twisted imagination, relatively few of his devotees feel a letdown when the latest King concoction rolls off the press.

But if you thought the best-selling author might grow complacent amid the pandemic adulation, a glance at King's Misery will disclose the nightmarish visions he has of displeasing his most ardent admirers. Fame itself becomes a horror story when the wildly successful writer of petticoat epics, Paul Sheldon, has a crippling car accident up among the pines in snowbound Colorado.

He regains consciousness in the isolated cabin of his self-proclaimed number one fan, Annie Wilkes, unable to walk and wracked with excruciating pain. Unfortunately, this Annie is to nursing what Typhoid Annie was to food preparation. We're beyond fanaticism or even neurosis here, deep into the wild frontiers of obsession and insanity.

Equipped with the skills to administer injections and medication, Annie treats her houseguest like a demigod one moment and a mongrel dog the next --healing, addicting, and implacably imprisoning her victim. Annie has the insight to realize she has issues with anger management, but that only decreases the frequency of her sadistic violence, not the intensity.

We probably remember how well this suspense formula can work from the 1990 film and Kathy Bates's Oscar-winning performance as Annie. Yet in some ways, as the current Off-Tryon Theatre production proves, Misery is better suited for the small stage than the big screen. Opening up the action to the Colorado countryside arguably dilutes the oppressiveness and the surrealism of Paul's cabin confinement. As Donna Scott's portrayal often shows, Annie can be more chilling close-up-and-human than she was blown-up-and-Hollywood.

Justin Bitton probably underestimates the pomposity and conceit of Paul Chambers, but his timing, concentration, and involvement are superb. He must be a joy for fellow actors to work with. We feel every painful torment he endures, aided by Kristen Foster's special makeup effects.

North Carolina Dance Theatre reinforced its status among the vanguard of modern dance companies last week, staging the world premieres of two superb pieces. The question of which new work should be adjudged superior is arguably a toss-up. If you like your dance packaged with a story line, Mark Diamond's reimagining of Hamlet gets the nod. If bravura performance holds greater appeal, Dwight Rhoden's Verge would likely rate higher.

What a treat to have both! Diamond, the genius-in-residence at NCDT, surely must be among the most compelling storytellers in contemporary dance. His Streetcar Named Desire last year was astonishing enough. Hamlet is even more audacious, delving deeply into the psyche and structure of the classic script. Every scene bombards the mind and senses, yet all are finished with exquisite polish. Somehow, Diamond even improves the sound of John Corigliano's Symphony #1.

Diamond has his own vivid takes on Ophelia and King Hamlet, who Diamond portrayed himself. The enormity of Claudius' crime comes across with a brutal clarity, and sexual tensions between Prince Hamlet and Queen Gertrude couldn't be more vivid. Special kudos for Alexei Khimenko's multifaceted Prince Hamlet, Benjamin Kubie's malignant Claudius, and Amy Price-Robinson's ultrafair Ophelia.

Rising from the orchestra pit and dominating the Belk Theater stage, guest artist Desmond Richardson also deserved an encore. Without his charisma, I'm not sure Verge would stir up quite the interest and excitement. Sections that Rhoden calls "Hypothetical Nuance," "Tactile Faction," and "The If And Or Of It" can hardly be accused of dramatic motives.

Rhoden's choreography meshed wonderfully with Antonio Carlos Scott's original music, and the NCDT ensemble danced brilliantly all night.

Empowerment, emshmowerment. Done right, Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues is informative, inspirational, appalling, and howlingly funny. Under Joanna Gerdy's resourceful direction, the first Charlotte V-Day Vagina was all of the above.

Of course, it didn't hurt to have a cast blithely willing to toss inhibitions to the wind. Lying on her back fully clothed, Theatre Charlotte administrative director Candace Sorenson simulated a triple orgasm. Or tried to. Then Gina Stewart, demonstrating the full spectrum of feminine coital moans, did things to a music stand that I'll probably never forget.

Loonis McGlohon Theatre was packed to rafters for the Saturday night benefit. They watched -- and adored -- a cast that beautifully represented a cross-section of Charlotte women involved in theater, the media, education, and private business. Plus a gynecologist.

V-Day was victorious as an event -- and a welcome boost to the cause of eradicating violence against women. *

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