In October, 2011, the New Yorker magazine published a one-act play by Eugene O’Neill called Exorcism. At that time, one manuscript of the play existed. It had been staged once, at the Provincetown Playhouse in March, 1920, but O’Neill put a quick end to the production and, it’s believed, destroyed the scripts. It is an extremely personal piece; perhaps O’Neill couldn’t cope with how intimately exposed his personal life and pain were to an audience of strangers. One critic called it “uncommonly good,” but Exorcism quickly fell into obscurity and was largely forgotten.
Five decades passed. Then, the single copy that the New Yorker got hold of was discovered in the personal archives of a screenwriter named Philip Yordan whose work was committed to film in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Yordan died in 2003. His death gave new life to Exorcism.
Yesterday – February 28th, 2012 – Yale University Press published Exorcism in book format for the first time, including a section of facsimile pages of the one manuscript in known existence and a forward by the fantastic Edward Albee, playwright of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Exorcism is based on O’Neill’s own botched suicide attempt seven year earlier, in 1912, at the age of 23. Already, he was divorced and alienated from most of his family. He was drinking in a salloon called Jimmy the Priest’s, at 242 Fulton Street in lower Manhattan, an address which the events of September 11th, 2001, have since whipped off the map. Depressed, desperate, O’Neill tried to overdose on Venoral, a barbiturate.
Familial unrest. Drug addiction. O’Neill would go on to further develop the work of Exorcism into plays we know him for today, like Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956).