Live on stage: "The Exorcist"?

Live on stage: "The Exorcist"? May 12, 2011

Watch out for the pea soup: the blockbuster novel and movie (based on the true story of a Catholic exorcism) is being adapted for the stage and will have its world premiere next year in Los Angeles.

From the New York Times:

The playwright John Pielmeier (“Agnes of God”) is writing the stage version of “The Exorcist,” based on William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel. John Doyle, who brought a stripped-down, bloody sensibility to the 2005 Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd,” will direct the show, which is set to begin performances on July 3, 2012.

The 1973 film adaptation, directed by William Friedkin, starred Linda Blair in a career-defining role as the possessed girl, Ellen Burstyn as her mother and Max von Sydow as the priest on a mission. The movie, one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time, was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture and best director (it won for best sound and adapted screenplay).

Ken Novice, the Geffen’s managing director, said in a phone interview that the play will not be the film regurgitated, but rather a new look at the book.

“The novel has a different take than the movie,” he said. “There’s a focus on the psychological aspects and questions of faith. The idea is to focus on those two elements as opposed to big special effects, or trying to create horror on stage in the way you would do for a movie.”

Good luck making that work, folks.

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12 responses to “Live on stage: "The Exorcist"?”

  1. The movie and stage communities seem to be suffering from an ever-increasing drought. The majority of material out or in production seems to be remakes of past glories. The increase in remakes seems to trend with the decline in substantive studies among college students. Happy Pap for the masses in school, and on Broadway.

    The lack of imagination is most evident in this revisiting of the Exorcist, whether by way of regurgitation, or narrow focus on elements of the novel. A serious and substantive playwright has depths of material at his/her disposal from real exorcists and can put together a compelling drama entirely unrelated to that farcical novel and movie. Such a play could mine the nuances of this field.

    I would imagine it might bring some gravitas back to a Broadway beset by The Lion King, Jersey Boys, and The Addams Family.

  2. “Farcical novel and movie”? You’re in the distinct minority in that view Gerard. The Exorcist has to be one of the most extraordinary films ever made, with world class performances evidenced by its 10 academy award nominations, and it is based on a true story. The depiction of the possession, while not perfect, was compelling and conveyed the basic truth, nearly forgotten by the Catholic world at large at the time, that fallen angels are real. If one can look slightly deeper than the pea soup, you can see that at bottom it is a very moving drama of a doubting priest’s love for a helpless and tortured girl, and his desperate search for faith.

    I do agree with you on the other points you make, however. Too many re-makes, yes. But this one could work.

  3. Brother Jeff,

    I’ve spoken with a couple of exorcists through the years. The men chosen for the job are not doubters. Quite the contrary. They are chosen in no small measure because of the personal holiness, integrity, and maturity in their priesthood.

    10 Academy awards does not Catholic accuracy make, even beyond the pea soup, the spinning head, etc. It’s more like the movie Titanic, with Leonardo Decaprio. Had the writer employed the real stories of that night, instead of the unreal contrivance, it would have been so much more powerful that the product we saw.

  4. I like exorcist movies; the exorcist sagas, the exorcism of Emily Rose, the Last Exorcism, the Last Rite, etc. Even though I know they are inaccurate and done for dramatic purposes (and possibly make money) these movies at least still have the figure of the heroic Priest, the power of the Church, the existence of another world, the reality of demons and angels, prayer, faith and other themes that you no longer find in dramatic movies anymore. I would see the play, even though I agree with those here who think that a more original theme would be better.

  5. Gerard, I agree and was aware of that too. Part of the dynamic tension of the film is that Father Karras does not possess sufficient faith or wisdom to handle the exorcism. That is why the bishop, in the scene in which he meets with the Jesuit president of Georgetown, says that “it would be best to have a man of experience” and assigns Father Merrin to lead the exorcism.

    What is riveting to watch is the extent to which Karras has all the evidence he needs of the supernatural in front of him, but still struggles to believe it is real. That is great move making in my book, and no doubt many of us would react the same way in those circumstances. If you watch the final exorcism scene closely, the demon calls Karras a “faithless slime,” which is consistent with demons’ contempt for our hybrid spirit/matter makeup, and a testament that real faith is indeed a gift and from God.

  6. I never wanted to see the movie—I’d certainly never go see it on stage. Too creepy. I also don’t believe in the devil living in someone’s body. (but then I don’t believe in a devil).

  7. “The greatest victory for Satan is for people not to believe in him” Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis

  8. Yeah, Rudy, have heard that more than one time in my 60 plus years! But it’s hard to be worried in a concept I don’t believe in. Have a great sunny day!

  9. I too am going to come out in favour of The Exorcist (the movie). While it was certainly exaggerated for dramatic effect, and while it does have some theological errors, (most specifically when the priest takes the demon into himself) I think it is a very powerful witness to the authority of the Church over demons, and to the disturbing reality of demonic afflictions.

  10. Wasn’t the Excorcist based on a real life case of a boy in St. Louis sometime in the late 40’s early 50’s? There is debate as to whether it is mental illness or possession. As one excorcist I heard interviewed, put it, “you can usually rule out mental illness when the patient starts speaking a 1,000 year old -archaic language, and heavy funriture starts shaking or moving on its own. He also said, in one case, the patient wasn’t Catholic, their Minister had reffered him to an excorcist.

    I admire the men who do this. It is an exhausting and challenging procedure. They take their jobs very seriously. The victims let loose blood curdling screams, agony, contortions. They will insult the priest, perhaps using personal information against him. They can last over 24 hours, needing intense prayer and fasting. I am including a video link for Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea; he speaks about some things he has seen in excorcisms. It’s a tame account, so should not be upsetting to any viewers

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