Bucks Playhouse premiere has heavyweight backers

The Bucks County Playhouse hopes to sell 1,000 memberships in its first year, producing director Jed Bernstein says.
The Bucks County Playhouse hopes to sell 1,000 memberships in its first year, producing director Jed Bernstein says. (JOHN SLAVIN / File Photograph)
Posted: September 21, 2012

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 it listed a creative team that is 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 theater - which opened in 1939 and for decades was one of the nation's prime regional stages, casting the likes of Helen Hayes, Grace Kelly and Robert Redford - back to developing major new professional work. Over the years it declined, becoming an amateur theater whose money woes forced it to close in 2010. A non-profit family foundation of local residents Kevin and Sherri Daugherty renovated and reopened it in July as a professional house, which so far has produced two shows and will bring in James Earl Jones and Tyne Daly to perform Love Letters for two nights in October.

Misery, scheduled for 11 performances between Nov. 24 and Dec. 8, also puts the Playhouse in league with a few other American stages where substantial backers partner with local theaters to try out what they call "developmental plays" with an eye toward Broadway.

It's a "milestone in our efforts to re-establish the Playhouse as an integral and vital player in Broadway creative development," said the theater's producing director, Jed Bernstein, in the announcement. Himself a Broadway hotshot, Bernstein for 11 years led 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 about about a writer whose historical fiction features a character named Misery Chastain. A female fan who rescues him after a car accident learns he's planning no more Misery Chastain novels, and imprisons and tortures him. The book became a 1990 movie with James Caan and Kathy Bates, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of mad Annie.

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 with Warner and the Playhouse, has made many films, including seven based on King's work.

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

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