From page to stage

Stephen King's harrowing tale of an obsessive fan is coming to Miners Alley

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As Coloradoans bundle up against the bitter cold, a different kind of freeze is taking place at the Miners Alley Performing Arts Center in Golden. It’s the kind that sends shivers down your spine: a chilling performance of Misery

Written by William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplay for the 1990 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, the play follows renowned novelist Paul Sheldon as he finds himself in a remote Colorado cabin with Annie Wilkes, his self-proclaimed “number-one fan,” after a terrifying car accident. Although Annie promises to assist Paul in his recovery, the situation quickly turns into a dark, nail-biting thriller when she discovers he killed off her favorite character in his latest book. 

Directed by Warren Sherrill, who recently staged Miners Alley’s 2023 smash hit Avenue Q, the play promises to balance dark comedy with psychodrama in a way only King can conjure. 

“Stephen King’s work is notoriously hard to adapt,” Sherrill says. “Because Goldman wrote the screenplay, the script is similar to the film, and the biggest challenge is to keep things moving quickly.”

With 24 scenes to navigate, Sherrill aimed to create a production that felt like a roller coaster that never allowed the audience to sit back and relax. Emma Messenger, who plays the unnerving Annie, had worked on the play with Sherill in 2017 at the now-defunct Edge Theatre in Lakewood. 

“I had read the book years ago, but when I read it very recently, it’s fascinating how different the play script is from the book,” Messenger says. “Because you’re so focused on Paul and Paul’s inner thoughts in the book, I feel like the play is more balanced in Annie’s favor. You get to see that it’s not just this monolithic monster that it is in the book.” 

‘This isn’t your grandma’s theater’

The rehearsal process in the new space at Miners Alley has played a significant role in shaping the production. 

“It’s a magical space,” Messenger says. “Working in a new space is different than working in a theater that has done hundreds of shows and has all those ghosts around. The space feels very well thought out and practical, which makes it very easy to just do your job as a performer. It feels very comfortable, like being in a new house.”

In a play where anxiety and confinement are major themes, the actors’ comfort is essential. Jonathan Scott McKean‘s set design is an important aspect of Misery. It captures the run-down state of Annie’s world as well as Paul’s claustrophobic circumstances. Sherrill wanted to create a space that felt both expansive and confining, reflecting the characters’ mental states.

Torsten Hillhouse, playing Paul Sheldon, recommends the play to almost everyone. “Except for little kids,” he says with a smile. “It’s a fascinating story about Paul’s battle with addiction, and then, once he was saved, how Annie prayed on his addiction and created a new one.”

Despite its dark themes, Misery steers clear of gore, opting instead for psychological terror. “No gore or heads getting chopped off; it’s very Hitchcockian,” Sherrill confirmed. “The most important and difficult scene is the famous hobbling scene, because everyone knows and expects it. It’s like Titanic — everyone knows it’s coming, so it better be good.”

As the play progresses, the suspense becomes almost unbearable. The three cast members admitted that this play was among the most physically demanding they had ever been a part of. 

“I feel my stomach muscles get wound up, and by the end, I’m just exhausted,” Messenger says. “It’s a challenge to keep the tension up. There’s also a lot of physical fighting, which is very challenging, so I’m lucky I have a great partner and a wonderful fight director, Amy Arpan.” 

Assistant director Candace Joice adds, “If you’re a fan of Black Mirror or new psychological horror, I think you’d like this. It’s very cinematic with quick scenes, which makes you feel like you’re watching a movie. Maybe young people who haven’t been to the theater in a while will come because this isn’t your grandma’s theater. I think they will discover that theater kicks ass.”

The play serves as a vivid reminder that the true essence of horror lies not in the supernatural but in the depths of the human psyche. Sherrill assures King purists that they intend to “give the audience what they expect” while also incorporating some theatrical surprise. 

“It is easy to fall into the trap of comparison,” Joice says. “Everyone has this vision in their head, and with any story — even one as well-known as this one — I think you just have to say, ‘We are going to tell the truth.’ If people want to compare it, which they inevitably will, that is fine. 

“I think people are going to like our version because we told the truth.”

ON STAGE: Misery. Jan. 19-Feb. 11, Miners Alley Performing Arts Center, 1103 Arapahoe St., Golden. $37-$56.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article had an incorrect spelling of Candace Joice’s name. We regret the error.