Andrew May and Kathleen Pirkl Tague 

Taking the adage "break a leg" a bit too seriously with the co-stars of Misery

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Bingo Barnes

Prepare for a summer of Misery—that's a good thing—at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. ISF's 42nd season of repertory under the stars starts with a bang, quite literally, on Friday, May 25, with Misery, the stage adaptation of the wildly popular book and Oscar-winning movie from the modern master of suspense, Stephen King.

"The name value certainly draws people in to the theater," said Andrew May, who plays novelist Paul Sheldon, held captive by "his biggest fan" Annie Wilkes, portrayed by Kathleen Pirkl Tague.

"It is a challenge, especially for me, because Annie was portrayed on the screen by Kathy Bates, who won the Oscar," said Pirkl Tague. "It's a little intimidating, but I love a challenge."

Days before their opening night, May and Pirkl Tague talked with Boise Weekly about the mayhem and fun surrounding the classic thriller.

There is a bit of violence in Misery. Can I assume that it's carefully choreographed?

Pirkl Tague: Some actors are really picky about violence being very well rehearsed. Andrew and I like to go at it a bit more realistically. But we trust each other, which is a big thing. I do some pretty crazy things to him.

May: It has been a bit of a pet peeve of mine that when you choreograph something to an inch of its life, you have a tendency to show its technique. And while that's impressive, at the same time it takes you out of [the] action.

All that said, there's a fair amount of humor in Misery.

May: Twisted humor.

Pirkl Tague: My character is somewhat ridiculous, even though she's intense, fierce and messed up.

click to enlarge Kathleen Pirkl Tague and Andrew May co-star in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production of Misery. - ROGER MASTROIANNI, IDAHO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
  • Roger Mastroianni, Idaho Shakespeare Festival
  • Kathleen Pirkl Tague and Andrew May co-star in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production of Misery.

Kathleen, have you deconstructed Annie's mental illness?

Pirkl Tague: In the book, Annie is put on trial for killing children in a hospital, but they couldn't convict her because they didn't have enough evidence. There are also references to her being a serial killer.

Can I assume that you bring that backstory into your portrayal of Annie?

Pirkl Tague: I think underneath all that psychosis is deep sadness. That's a neurosis, right? Constructing fictional realities in order not to experience the true reality of deep pain.

I was lucky enough to see Misery on Broadway several years back, and I must say that there's something really special about a collective gasp coming from an audience.

May: There are moments when we can tell that the audience is really with us. When our story is funny, it's not a nervous "ha-ha," but a real, genuine gallows laughter. That's when we know you're 100 percent with us.

You must know that by then, audiences are right there with you, like they're on a thrill ride at an amusement park.

May: It's such a visceral response. We've had audience members say, "I loved that. That was so good," and you can tell when they're just saying it, or when they really mean it. Trust me, they really mean it.

Pirkl Tague: We have this roller coaster thing going on, where everyone is relaxed and saying, "Oh, Annie is just a funny old lady," and then she'll jump out at you, growl and bark like a mean German shepherd.

I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you to talk a bit about Idaho audiences.

May: I've always found that there's a legacy of fun here.

Kathleen, you returned to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival company in last year's Hamlet after being away for quite some time.

Pirkl Tague: That was the first time in 10 years and it was heartbreakingly wonderful to be on the stage where I'd had so many incredible moments. I always say when I die, I want my ashes to be sprinkled somewhere under the stage.

But let's not go there just yet. I guess I could say "break a leg," but I'm afraid that might actually happen in Misery.

May: Yes, fibulas and tibias will be shattered.

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