- Last Updated: 10:42 AM, June 22, 2012
- Posted: 11:00 PM, June 21, 2012
Here’s a show that, if it’s any good, should make your head spin: “The Exorcist.”
The play, which has been adapted from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, begins performances next month at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. And while producers Ben Sprecher and Sonia Friedman are keeping a lid on expectations, I hear that if the reviews are good, the production will land on Broadway, possibly at the John Golden Theatre, in the fall.
We could use a good, old-fashioned chiller. I’m hard-pressed to remember the last one — maybe Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s misbegotten “Getting Away With Murder” from 1996? — but thrillers used to be a staple of the Great White Way.
A few of my all-time favorites include Frederick Knott’s superbly plotted “Dial ‘M’ for Murder,” which played the Plymouth in 1952; Anthony Shaffer’s witty “Sleuth” and his hair-raising “Murderer,” which opens with a body being dismembered; and of course Ira Levin’s long-running “Deathtrap,” revived in London in 2010 with Simon Russell Beale as the murderous playwright.
There’s also “Wait Until Dark,” which was revived on Broadway in 1998 with Quentin Tarantino as a psychopath.
Now that was some truly horrific acting.
John Doyle is directing “The Exorcist.” He’s best known for staging musicals in which the actors play the instruments, and I hear he’s got some nifty gimmicks lined up for this production.
Regan, the girl possessed by the devil, will be playing “That Old Black Magic” on a trombone while her head does a 360-degree turnabout.
In fact, Doyle’s production is said to be relatively gimmick-free. He’s aiming for psychological horror rather than grisly special effects.
Which is something he achieved, brilliantly, in his Tony-winning 2006 revival of “Sweeney Todd,” starring a blood-chilling Michael Cerveris as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Teller, of Penn and Teller fame, is providing a few effects. A source who watched him practice a levitation scene says it’s “genuinely creepy.”
The script is by John Pielmeier, who knows a thing or two about spiritual mysteries. He wrote the psychological melodrama “Agnes of God,” about a young nun who believes she’s been impregnated by God.
(Pielmeier also has tried his hand at stage thrillers — “Voices in the Dark” and “Sleight of Hand,” neither of which managed to scare up more a dozen or so performances in New York.)
It would be impossible to improve on William Friedkin’s great 1973 movie starring Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair. And so Pielmeier has adapted the play from the novel, which kept me up at night when I read it as a kid.
Doyle’s also doing all he can to avoid comparisons with the movie. When Pielmeier turned in his first draft, the director told him to take out all the stage directions. Doyle then changed the setting of the play from the bedroom — where much of the movie takes place — to a church.
Brooke Shields is playing Regan’s mother, and Richard Chamberlain — Mr. “Thorn Birds”! — is playing Father Merrin (Max von Sydow in the movie).
As for the voice of the devil, so memorably supplied by Mercedes McCambridge in the film, all of the actors in the play will be doing it at different times and in different styles.
(I hear Chamberlain will be using his “Shogun” voice.)
Should the show move to Broadway, Shields will be coming with it. Chamberlain, however, will not. The producers have offered the role to Malcolm McDowell.
“Malcolm couldn’t do the Los Angeles run, so Richard agreed to step in knowing that Malcolm had already agreed to play Broadway,” says a source.
I’m all for a good fright, and “The Exorcist,” in Doyle’s capable hands, should be lots of fun.
Now kindly undo these straps!