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Fright Nights

C. Stanley Photography

Pictured: 'The Thrush and the Woodpecker' | Courtesy of C. Stanley Photography

Forget British imports or celebrities doing Shakespeare: Terror is the hot new trend in theater. It started in January with an adaptation of the vampire novel and film Let the Right One In, helmed by John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett. Now stage thrillers are creeping across the country — and we’re not talking about revivals of Wait Until Dark. Writers and directors are creating brand-new fright-fests to keep us cowering behind our playbills.

Later this season, Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf will star in a Broadway stage version of Misery, Stephen King’s tale of a deranged fan who imprisons her favorite novelist. In September, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre premieres playwright Charise Castro Smith’s horror-comedy Feathers and Teeth, about a girl whose father’s new fiancée is wickedly evil. October brings The Humans — Stephen Karam’s play about a family haunted over Thanksgiving weekend — to Roundabout Theatre Company in Manhattan. And starting Halloween night, Actor’s Express in Atlanta will be presenting Steve Yockey’s The Thrush and the Woodpecker, about a supernatural woman who inflicts terrible revenge on her former neighbor.

The bonus: None of these plays want to chill audiences in the same way. For instance, gay writer Yockey includes monsters in his play, but instead of unveiling them, he uses sound effects like ominous knocking and deafening animal cries to suggest what’s lurking outside. It’s a device he’s sure will still get theatergoers quaking. “In a play that you’re hoping will be scary, the audience’s imagination is the best tool you have,” he says.

But Will Frears, who’s directing Misery, argues that because audiences are trapped in their seats, he can force them to look. He promises he’s going all out for the famous scene in which Willis’s character is mercilessly crippled by a sledgehammer. “The assumption is it will be a trick done with mirrors or something,” Frears says. “I say we’re going to break his fucking ankles right in front of you.”

Feathers and Teeth opens September 19 at Goodman Theatre, Chicago; The Humans opens October 25 at the Laura Pels Theatre, New York; The Thrush and the Woodpecker opens October 31 at Actor’s Express, Atlanta; Misery opens November 15 at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York.

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