News: Bucks County Playhouse plans premiere with high-level partners

By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

The newly reopened Bucks County Playhouse is already planning a world premiere, and a high-level one, too: A production based on Stephen King’s novel Misery, which the Playhouse will produce along with two big backers, Warner Brothers and Castle Rock Entertainment.

The Playhouse, in New Hope, named no cast in an announcement of the premiere Thursday, but listed a creative team mostly Broadway-based. It’s not unusual for the 50-plus professional stages in metropolitan Philadelphia to stage world premieres — about a fourth of all plays performed here are being done for the first time. But the Playhouse deal is different.

It brings the Playhouse, which opened in 1939 and for decades was among the nation’s prime regional stages casting the likes of Helen Hayes, Grace Kelly and Robert Redford, back to developing major new professional work. The Playhouse had become an amateur theater and money woes forced its closing in 2010. A non-profit family foundation of local residents Kevin and Sherri Daugherty reopened the renovated theater in July as a professional house, and it has so far produced two shows and will bring in James Earl Jones and Tyne Daly to perform Love Letters for two nights next month.

The production of Misery, scheduled for 11 performances between Nov. 24 and Dec. 8, also puts Bucks County Playhouse in league with a few other stages around the country where substantial backers partner with local theaters to try out what they call “developmental plays” with an eye toward Broadway.

Misery is a “milestone in our efforts to re-establish the Playhouse as an integral and vital player in Broadway creative development,” said Playhouse producing director Jed Bernstein in the announcement. Bernstein, himself a hot-shot on Broadway, was for 11 years the head of its league of producers and founded an entertainment venture that launched recent revivals of Equus, Hair and Driving Miss Daisy.

Misery is King’s 1987 psychological thriller novel about about a writer whose historical fiction features a character named Misery Chastain. A woman fan who saves the writer from a car accident learns he’s planning no more novels, and keeps him prisoner. The book became a 1990 movie with James Caan and Kathy Bates, who won an Oscar for her portrayal as the writer’s captor.

That film was adapted by Oscar winner William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), who will script the new play. Another stage version by playwright Simon Moore has been performed, mainly in Britain.

“As a company with many projects in the pipeline ... we’re grateful to have the Playhouse” as a partner, said Mark Kaufman, a head of Warner Brothers Theatre Ventures, the company’s live-stage arm. Castle Rock, the other producer along with Warner Brothers and the Playhouse, has made  many films including seven based on Stephen King’s work.

Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter.

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