‘Misery’s’ number-one fan fills Theatre Two with horror

By Shari Goldstein Stern

Author Stephen King’s novels and short stories move readers to disbelief, fear and horror, as does the 1990 film, “Misery.” In an ambitious undertaking, Theatre Two steps it up to bring the terrifying play, “Misery,” which confounds sold-out audiences at Theatre Two through June 2.

Photo courtesy of Theatre Two

Who can forget Kathy Bates in the film “Misery” as romance novelist Paul Sheldon’s “Number One Fan?” Bates’ Annie Wilkes was a nightmare to James Caan, the movie’s Sheldon. He suffered significant injuries in a collision, leaving his body mangled on the side of a snowy road. Annie rescued him and took him to her home to allegedly care for him.

Theatre Two’s production follows the story in which Annie insists that Paul rewrite his latest book, bringing her beloved character in his series of books, “Misery,” back to life. Annie is furious that the author killed her precious character. He is forced to remain under her care and be held captive in her secluded Colorado home. His rescue becomes his nightmare. Paul is held hostage by his “Number One Fan,” which she repeats proudly.

Christy Vela’s direction brings out the best of Dallas native Tina Parker’s artistry and the worst of her raging character, Annie’s rage. Annie is an isolated, prudish spinster whose past nursing career allegedly qualifies her to tend to the writer’s broken body. Her life has secretly revolved around this acclaimed author’s life and work.

Paul is not interested in remaining her housemate, writhing in pain while Annie cruelly withholds his medication. She demands he rewrite the book so that he, as the talented writer she worships, keep Misery alive. Now, at Theatre Two, it is Dallas native Tina Parker, who wields a sledgehammer teasingly over Sheldon’s broken body. The audience wonders how she plans to use it. This nurse is no Nightengale but rather a Nightmare. 

Parker demonstrates sharp skill with her interpretation of the bitchy, unhinged sociopath. The Dallas actor has an impressive artistic history, including television, film, and live theater. She appeared in 14 episodes of 2017-2022’s “Better Call Saul” and in nine episodes of “Breaking Bad” from 2009-2013, all as Francesca Liddy.

Among her dozens of credits, the actor performed in the 2020 film “Minari” and 2022’s “Land of Gold” along with the unusual Netflix series, “Longmire.” Parker appeared in the series “Dallas” in 2012. Locally, Parker is the artistic director and company manager of Kitchen Dog Theater Company. She is a graduate of SMU School of Fine Arts.

In desperation, Paul suggests the pleasantries of a cozy, candle-lit dinner and wine to his captor. Just when Sheldon’s effort to end his nightmare by ending Annie, a clumsy mistake, a spilled glass of wine, kills the idea. 

Director Vela’s interpretation of Sheldon, portrayed with angst by Cameron Cobb, spending his days and nights in a bizarre stranger’s house, in a strange bed, unable to move his crumbled limbs, is convincing enough to get the point across. A suggestion to Theatre Two would be to arrange his bed tilted at an angle so the audience can enjoy his facial expressions.

Cobb has a lengthy resume that includes film, television, video games, commercial video and print, improv and stage combat choreography. In his spare time, he loves cooking and fatherhood.

The actor has performed at many theaters locally, including Kitchen Dog, Shakespeare Dallas, WaterTower Theater, Dallas Theater Center and more. Some of his shows have been “A Christmas Carol,” “The Wedding Singer” and “Grapes of Wrath.” Cobb holds a B.F.A. from SMU and studied at the Oxford School of Drama.

Artistic Director Jeffrey Schmidt pulls out all the stops with scenery that keeps the audience on their toes. He is innovative in utilizing the small stage with a turntable that leads us through Annie’s house while most of the action is in Sheldon’s room. That’s where Sheldon lies in agony, rarely speaking, while Annie prattles on about her beloved character, Misery. Cameron Cobb performs through his believable facial expressions of fear and pain, convincing the audience of his dread. The violent action begins once he manages to force himself out of bed.

Fear escalates when an unexpected visitor, a sheriff’s deputy, drops by. He has received calls about the missing Paul Sheldon. Although Annie hides the crippled patient in the basement, she never admits to seeing him. Instead, she repeatedly prattles on her love for him and his books. “I’m his biggest fan,” she brags repeatedly.

All hell breaks loose when the deputy makes another unannounced visit. This time, violence erupts when Annie becomes more outraged. While LaQuintence Canady II doesn’t have a big part, he’s a welcome solace to the audience as a normal person in the short time he does appear.

“This play forces us to watch this writer grapple with his own hubris in a very visceral way,” says Vela. “Annie forces Paul to acknowledge and be grateful for his talent just as he is aspiring to be ‘taken seriously’ as a writer. She definitely teaches him to not look a gift pig in the mouth.”

A patron of last Friday’s performance said, “That play had me at sledgehammer!”

“Misery” performances are on weekends through June 2 at Theater Two, downstairs from Theatre Three. For tickets and information, visit theatrethreedallas.com.