Related Posts

Share This

Exorcism: A Play in One Act

by Eugene O’Neill

Foreword by Edward Albee

Yale University Press

In shops now

One of the most exciting things for academics and book nerds is to discover the lost manuscripts of our favorite writers.  Eugene O’Neill’s “Exorcism” is not a play he wrote and just shoved in a drawer, though.  He wrote the one-act in 1919, based upon a personal experience that would launch his career as a playwright.  The play was even produced in the Spring of 1920 by New York’s Provincetown Players.  After two weeks of performance and a smattering of tepid reviews, however, he cancelled the production and ordered all copies of the play to be destroyed.  It was not until last year that a typewritten copy of the play – with handwritten edits by O’Neill – surfaced from screenwriter Philip Yordan’s widow.  It was given to Yordan by O’Neill’s second wife.

After a printing in The New Yorker last October, Yale University (which has no fewer than four collections of O’Neill’s works, diaries and personal effects) published the play a couple months ago, complete with a typescript facsimile of the master and an introduction by Edward Albee, which speaks to the notion that every writer you’ve ever heard of has more than a few works he or she would rather the public never discover.

The set-up in “Exorcism” is very simple: Ned is a young man living in a wretched little Manhattan closet who has decided that it is time to die.  The themes in the play are all very familiar to those of us familiar with the canon – depression, drinking, hopelessness and an overbearing father has cast a dark shadow on his son.  What unfolds in these 54 pages is simply a moment in time, and a very personal one to Eugene O’Neill who went through all these troubles as a young man (and some of them as an adult as well).

It is not a masterpiece of writing.  For that we will always look to “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which certainly is.  But it is astounding to look at the early sketches of great writers and see how they shaped their craft over the course of a career.  And that makes this an amazing discovery.