Misery Gets Company: William Goldman, Author of "The Season," Pens Stage Thriller
By Robert Simonson
William Goldman, screenwriter of "The Princess Bride" and "All the President's Men," and Broadway chronicler in his book "The Season," returns to the stage after a long absence with a new adaptation of Stephen King's "Misery." Goldman and director Will Frears discuss the new work.
Though most of the world knows William Goldman as an Oscar-winning screenwriter ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "All The President's Men"), his name also carries some weight in theatre circles. This is due to "The Season," his probing, funny, biting and timeless blow-by-blow analysis of the 1967-68 Broadway season. A classic look at the theatre business, it has never been out of print and can be found in the library of almost every theatre fan and professional.
Few who have enjoyed that book, however, have ever seen a William Goldman play — or knew that he had even written one. Back in the early '60s, Goldman saw two of his efforts produced on Broadway: Blood, Sweat and Henry Poole, a play, and the musical A Family Affair. Each ran a couple months. Goldman hasn't attempted to write for the theatre since — until now.
Goldman, now 81, had adapted Stephen King's novel Misery for the stage; he had previously written the screenplay for the hit 1990 movie version of the thriller, which tells the story of an incapacitated novelist who is held captive in a remote cabin by his greatest — and craziest — fan. The production will receive its premiere at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA, for 11 performances Nov. 24 to Dec. 8. Will Frears directs Daniel Gerroll and Johanna Day in the lead roles.
It had never occurred to Goldman that the book or his screenplay — much of which takes place inside four walls — would make a good play. "Never. Never thought it might make a play," he told Playbill.com. "I was involved in the theatre 100-some-odd years ago and it was very painful. Doing something like this is not something that every crossed my mind."
That said, he did not require much convincing when the folks at Warner Brothers and Castle Rock came calling.
"WB Theatre Ventures and our producing partners, Castle Rock Entertainment, talked about bringing our version of Misery to the stage years ago," explained Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures executive vice president Raymond Wu in an email. "Soon after, we partnered with Bill Goldman and Will Frears and are ecstatic that we are on the road to our collective goals for this piece coming true."
When they approached Bill Goldman about it, said Wu, "we had a terrific discussion about the stage adaptation. We were thrilled that he was as excited as we were about this project. His screenplay for the film adaptation is so iconic and we all knew he was the right person to take Misery to the stage."
Frears joined the project in early 2011. Since then, the play has had a reading and two workshops.
"Bill's drafts have been so spectacular, that, the moment I came on board it's just had this wonderful momentum," told Frears. "It's kept moving forward in the nicest, easiest way."
Goldman said getting back on that rusty bicycle was a little tricky, but only at first. "I hadn't written a play since the last century," he said, "so it was all kind of complicated, but it worked. It's gone very well so far." To prepare for the project, Goldman reread the novel he'd pored over so many times before, and revisited his screenplay as well. (Goldman declined to discuss a long-rumored musical stage version of his wildly popular novel and film, "The Princess Bride.")
The Misery play opens with the sound of a car crash — the incident that results in the injured writer, Paul Sheldon, being accidentally discovered by the disturbed fan, Annie Wilkes. After that, we are at the house.
Frears (Off-Broadway's Omnium Gatherum, Still Life, The Water's Edge) believes the story should be acutely realistic in order have the desired effect. "I felt very early on that we had to be at a certain level of reality, because so much of it takes place in that room. Mostly because there are these astonishing moments of violence and terror in the middle of it, we all felt we had go there — you had to see those ankles crunch. If you didn't really deliver that satisfyingly, in a sense you weren't doing Misery. And that's what the people came for."
The director said he hoped the production would work both as a character drama and as an old-fashioned thriller.
"What's spectacular about it is you feel so much for both of these people," he said. "It's not a gore-fest. It's not, 'How much longer until we do something scary?' Because it's two people in a room, wanting two different things, it's dramatic in that way. And then there's this thriller thing running inside of it. I want it to be both effecting and affecting. You want the audience screaming, and then you want them thinking about these characters. You want it to be complicated."
Bucks County Playhouse, a regional theatre with a long and colorful history, was chosen as the play's first home. "When we sat down with [Bucks' producing director] Jed Bernstein to discuss bringing Misery to the Playhouse, we knew that this would be the perfect place to develop the show," said Warner Brothers Theatre Ventures executive vice president Mark Kaufman. "As a company with many projects in the pipeline, we're very grateful to have the Playhouse as an ideal partner for the development of this unique piece of theatre."
Stephen King has kept his distance during the developmental process, said Goldman, but has sent colleagues to check out the play's progress. The project's future will be ascertained following the Bucks run. If all goes well, perhaps Goldman will be part of his first Broadway season in a half-century.
As for that famous "Season" that he observed decades ago, Goldman is amused that people are still interested. "It was an odd experience because I think I went to the theatre 200 times that year," he recalled. "I saw everything. And some of the shows, five times. Everything, at least twice. I went to Philadelphia and Boston. It was a strange experience. I'd never done anything like it. I don't think there's anything else like it."
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