Magazine article Variety

Legit: The Exorcist

Magazine article Variety

Legit: The Exorcist

Article excerpt


(Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles; 522 seats; $87 top)

Director John Doyle; CM Richard Chamberlain, Brooke Shields

Ah 1971 best selling novel or 1973 film, William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist" has always been an amalgam of prolix theology and terrifying (irami Guignol. The production team behind the (icfTcn's updated stage adaptation clearly hoped John Doyle's theatricality would compensate for cinematic effects ( pea soup vomit, a moppet's spinning head, etc), but his black magle never quite rises to the spine-chilling. Those not intensely interested in Blatty's theory of good and evil are likely to perceive this self-conscious religioso exercise as a case of bait-and-switch.

A pretentious note is sounded al the get-go. Regan McNeil (20-ish Emily Yetter, believably adolescent ) crumbles and spits out a holy wafer, and a cassocked Father Menili ( Richard ( hamherlain ) poses downstage to intone, "For anyone who doubts the existence of the devil as I once did. I have three words: Auschwitz. Cambodia Somalia."

That geopolitical name-dropping is delivered on a stage that designer Scott I'ask surrounds with cathedral grillework as a niant crucifix hangs above; plainly, we're not to expect much in the way of fun. Blatty is on a sincere mission to proselytize his conception of God as guilt's antidote to despair. but th«' sermonizing seems sententious and Hal in this context. The and will not he allowed to figure out any moral lessons for itself.

"Agnes of God" scribe. John Pielmeier trims to 95 minutes the narrative of Regan's demonic posses sion as first noticed by her sassy actress mom (nice umnannered work from Brooke Shields).

Events transpire as readers and filmgoers will recall them. The girl's weirdly aggressive behavior is untreatable by smug doctors ( "It's a lesion on her temporal lobe") or clueless shrinks ("Her unconscious may give us some clue"). Then the mysterious death of whisky-sodden movie director Burke (an over-l hetop Many (imener) places matters into the shaky hands of Father Damien Karras, a caustic David Wilson Barnes staring down at his feel and muttering, "I've lost my faith."

Karras and Merrill, main delivery points for Blatty's messaging, are drastically underplayed, in contrast with .lason Miller's tilanieally anguished Karras and Max von Sydow's haunted, soul-weary exorcist in the movie.

Barnes talks a good game, out of the Graham Greene doubting-priest playbook, hut he's all shrugs and diffidence. Since his spiritual pain barely registers, his ultimate change of heart comes out of nowhere. …

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