JCCT staging show based on Stephen King’s “Misery”

BROWNSTOWN — You may not be romance novelist Paul Sheldon’s No. 1 fan because that title belongs to Annie Wilkes.

You will, however, be Jackson County Community Theatre’s No. 1 fan if you check out its production of William Goldman’s “Misery,” based on the novel by Stephen King.

The show will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22, 23, 29 and 30, 2:30 p.m. Sept. 24 and 10 p.m. Oct. 13 (Friday the 13th).

“Misery” follows the successful writer, who is rescued from a car crash by his No. 1 fan and wakes up captive in her secluded home. While Paul is convalescing, Annie reads his latest book and becomes enraged when she discovers the author has killed off her favorite character, Misery Chastain.

Annie forces Paul to write a new Misery novel, and he quickly realizes Annie has no intention of letting him go anywhere. The irate Annie has Paul writing as if his life depends on it, and it does.

“I love how tightly written this show is. Ninety minutes with no intermission, so the tension builds and doesn’t break until the end,” Director Paul Angle said.

“I was a huge Stephen King fan as a kid, although I read him less and less as I got older. But I loved this book and of course the movie,” Angle said. “William Goldman wrote the screenplay and also this script, so they have a very similar feel. In a lot of ways, this play is an adaptation of the movie more than the book because of it.”

He said he thinks people like to watch horror and thrillers for the catharsis they offer.

“We can experience those very human emotions without having to go through a real experience,” Angle said. “And when you couple that with the connection you feel in live theater that you can’t get with any other medium, it combines to give an incredible live experience.”

Angle said all three of the actors have put so much into their roles. Matt Nieman portrays Paul, Summer Hall plays the role of Annie and Jeremy Hendrix plays Sheriff Buster.

“We have spent a lot of time talking about character motivations, their histories, when they know in each scene and what their goals are,” Angle said. “There is so much going on under the surface, especially with Annie, and finding what that is for each character has been gratifying. Matt’s role is incredibly physical, and I can’t say enough about Summer. The show hinges on her performance, and she just crushes it.”

Nieman said he has liked embracing his character.

“Without just saying he is Stephen King playing out his own life choice insecurities, I would say he’s a guy who hit it big by writing for the masses,” Nieman said. “He loves the name he has made for himself while simultaneously hating the man he has become because of that name.”

He was familiar with the book and movie before auditioning.

“My dad is a giant Stephen King fan. I’ve also enjoy his books. They hit a good balance between fiction and reality,” Nieman said.

As for the stage show, Nieman said it’s all about redemption.

“Annie has her history, but from Paul’s perspective, it’s like ‘The Breakfast Club’ to ‘The Canterbury Tales’ but with excess violence,” he said. “It’s all about the trip of penance, emotionally, and in Paul’s case physically, paying for his sins. He comes out on the other side a very different person, and Annie has everything to do with it.”

In other shows, Nieman said he has played comedic, villain or character roles, so this is definitely a change.

“This has been a massive challenge, as I don’t get to act physically at all other than in a couple small scenes,” he said. “The language isn’t something I’m used to, but some of it is necessary to show the plot and character arc. It’s not a long show, but it’s a heavy one. And it’s nothing like JCCT has done before.”

Hall said she also grew up on Stephen King and was familiar with “Misery,” and she thought Annie was evil and planned on focusing on her being truly bad.

“But as the character develops, you find she is lonely, smart and probably a victim of abuse herself,” Hall said. “There are many nuances to her — a fan girl, an inner child who wants to please — so it is a scary character but also has so much more to her. I am lucky to have a cast and director that help deliver those aspects so when you see this person get upset, it is much more shocking.”

She said she feels this is the role of her career.

“I am so honored to be chosen because Jackson County has a thriving theater scene with so much talent, so I am truly excited to bring her to the stage,” Hall said.

Hendrix said he’s excited to get to play in this Stephen King classic.

“The sheriff is a fun character because he is more clever than anyone believes him to be,” he said. “It’s a really well-built story that builds tension slowly to an inevitable climax. The sheriff is a minor character onstage but major in how he drives the action of the story. I love that JCCT is bringing something that feels really new and exciting to the stage.”

In terms of adding the Friday the 13th show, Angle said it seemed like a perfect opportunity to perform a thriller written by King.

“JCCT hasn’t produced a horror/thriller since ‘Dracula’ in 1979, and I believe they did a midnight show for that, so in a sense, we are just carrying on a tradition with our 10 p.m. show on the 13th,” he said.

For all shows, Angle said the theater will be serving alcohol for those 21 and older.

“I don’t think it comes as any surprise, but this show is intense with adult language and some graphic violence,” he said. “I hope that people who don’t normally come to plays will come to this. If you like thrillers, Stephen King or the movie version, you won’t be disappointed.”

If you go

What: Jackson County Community Theatre’s production of William Goldman’s “Misery,” based on the novel by Stephen King

When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22, 23, 29 and 30, 2:30 p.m. Sept. 24 and 10 p.m. Oct. 13 (Friday the 13th)

Where: Royal Off-the-Square Theatre, 121 W. Walnut St., Brownstown

Cost: $15 for adults and $12 for children and senior citizens; buy online at jcct.org or call 812-358-5228

Director: Paul Angle

Assistant director: Ron Duncan

Production manager: Brinna Sharp

Cast: Matt Nieman, Summer Hall, Jeremy Hendrix