Charles Fee has been thinking about sledgehammers.
The producing artistic director of Great Lakes Theater began testing them in early December as part of the special effects for the iconic hobbling scene from Stephen King’s Misery, made famous on film by a demented Kathy Bates. On Feb. 16, Fee and his company bring the stage adaptation of the claustrophobic thriller to Cleveland for its Midwest premiere.
“It’s a trick, of course,” says Fee, of the sledgehammering. “I would never give it away! One never gives away the tricks of stage illusion!”
While Great Lakes Theater is best known for its commanding Shakespeare productions and annual runs of A Christmas Carol, it has staged more thrillers in recent years. Productions of Dial “M” For Murder and The Mousetrap were hugely popular. So Fee dove deeper into the dark side with Misery, which is followed in March by Shakespeare’s epic tragedy, Macbeth.
“What we’re drawn to in both plays is the psychological journey and landscape of people acting under extreme pressures, and finding out very dark truths about the possibilities of some human experiences,” says Fee.
The production also marks the return of Cleveland theater legend Andrew May, a former Great Lakes Theater associate artistic director who appears in his first starring role with the company since 2009. Since then, the actor starred in the 2013 national tour of War Horse and a number of plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
He and Fee began discussing his possible return more than two years ago, but were waiting for the right role. For May, that was Misery’s embattled novelist Paul Sheldon. May will also appear in Macbeth and is considering staying in Cleveland through 2018.
“We want him back, and he wants to play with us,” says Fee. “It will just depend on other opportunities he has at the time.”
For the squeamish, Fee says, Misery’s special effects won’t be too graphic.
“They’re terrifying and exciting,” says Fee, “but in a way that gives you a little bit of distance as an audience, which I believe thrillers always need.”