Selah Dessert Theatre serves up ‘Misery’

James Canacci wanted to direct “Misery” as soon as he heard a stage version existed.

“I’m a huge Stephen King fan,” he said. “I’ve always connected with King’s text, and this (book) was one of the few where you could actually do it on stage … It’s almost a bottle story — put two characters in a small space and what will they do.”

Canacci, who teaches at Kent State University at Trumbull, originally pitched the script for Kent-Trumbull’s theater department two years ago.

“The rights weren’t available,” he said. “Bruce Willis was doing it on Broadway and no one else was allowed to do it.”

Also, a two-character play is less appealing to a college theater program, where scripts with larger casts provide more opportunities for the students. However, it was perfect for the intimate theater space used for Selah Dessert Theatre, which will stage the thriller for five performances starting Jan. 25.

“Misery” is the story of Paul Sheldon, a best-selling romance novelist, who is injured in a car accident in a remote part of Colorado. He’s rescued by Annie Wilkes, who happens to be his biggest fan and is thrilled to meet the creator of her favorite heroine … at least until she discovers that Sheldon plans to kill off that character in his next book. Wilkes holds him hostage until he writes a story more to her liking.

Kathy Bates won an Academy Award for playing Wilkes in the 1990 film version (with James Caan as Sheldon). William Goldman, who wrote the screenplay for the film version, also wrote the play. Willis and Laurie Metcalf starred in the Broadway production, which ran for four months in 2015-16.

For the Selah production, Liz Conrad plays Wilkes and Chuck Kettering is Sheldon. The two actors have worked together several times, Canacci said, and both were excited to do the work.

“Liz was pretty much locked in when I brought up the idea,” Canacci said. “When we were doing ‘(The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon) Marigolds,’ she said let me know if you’re doing something again. When I said I wanted to do ‘Misery’ … ‘I’d love to be in that show.'”

The stage version cuts out the sheriff and other extraneous characters, keeping the focus on the injured prisoner and his increasingly unhinged captor. And while it follows the same storyline, some elements are handled differently. The iconic hobbling scene in the movie has been replaced by something else.

“I don’t compare it to the novel. That’s a totally separate text,” Canacci said. “If I was writing it, I would had done a couple things differently, but I think this version of it is really well done.”