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Two actors, three fictional worlds, one ax. The Landless Theatre Company brings them all together in a production of Stephen King’s Misery that doesn’t always hold together but makes some lovely messes along the way. Alice Anne English and Russell Jordan play it straight in Simon Moore’s workable adaptation of one of King’s better novels, which differs somewhat from the familiar book and movie versions. (If you can figure out what happens at the end of Landless’ production, do let me know.) Jordan is appropriately hammy as writer Paul Sheldon, seen in the play’s opening scene receiving a gaudy trophy for his romance novels. As the story progresses, with an offstage car crash and Paul’s retrieval and confinement by Annie Wilkes, Jordan becomes a convincing invalid—his pain can be very hard to watch. And he’s entertaining in equal measure when he reads from the cliché#-studded bodice-ripper his nurse-kidnapper compels him to write. (Less is revealed about the “serious” novel Annie finds in his luggage—which is just as well, because it’s merely a device to unhinge her.) English could have been haunted by the shadow of Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning performance, but she makes the role her own. Her Annie is softer and cuter than Bates’—which doesn’t make her any less disturbing when she flips into screaming, ranting madness. When she says, almost offhandedly, “I have such a temper,” it’s so magnificently understated that you wish someone would run out and hand her a trophy. There are a mere five company members credited on Misery’s program—stage manager and program designer Sarah McKnight, Meredith Bilek on props, and deft director Andrew Lloyd Baughman are the other three—and they do an admirable job with this Petit Guignol piece. Even if you know what’s gonna happen when the ax comes out—and even if you figure out, as I did, the trick that makes it happen—don’t be surprised if you stifle a scream.—Pamela Murray Winters