The Power of Christ Compels 'The Exorcist' at Geffen Playhouse

John Pielmeier's theatrical stage rendering of the infamously scary cult horror classic, The Exorcist is playing at the Geffen Playhouse. Closely based on the same-named 1971 novel and 1973 screenplay by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist offers horror-loving audiences a fun and fast-paced tension-filled, blood-pressure raising, star-studded, cuss-word laden jaunt through the spookier side of symbolic superstition and institutional dangers. If you like being jolted out of your seat in fear, then this is probably the play for you. Wanna see a frightening little girl holler profanity (even the C-word!) at well-known celebrities in a high-falutin' fancy dramatic theatre? Then this is most definitely the play for you.

Based on the true exorcism of the supposedly possessed demon-child Ronald Doe, Blatty's Exorcist novel and screenplay are now iconically part of American popular culture. The film was deemed worthy of preservation in the National Film Archives by the Library of Congress and even thirty years later, you could be hard pressed to find someone that does not know the likes of Linda Blair and her portrayal of Regan MacNeil. For his stage adaptation, Pielmeier did not simply rehash the film on stage. His down-sized vision of The Exorcist is cleaner, simpler, and has nicely updated references to some of the socio-political turmoil that exists beyond the four walls of Regan's bedroom.

The ensemble cast of The Exorcist thoughtfully hones in on the fine line that divides dubious skepticism and symbolic faith. Playing the central role of Regan, the evil little holy terror child that is possessed by the devil, Emily Yetter is wonderfully sly, subversive, and genuinely impish as she writhes about the stage. Brooke Shields plays Regan's distraught mother, Chris, with the sort of tireless determination and protective wrath that only an actual mother could know and pull off. Our inner-theatre snob generally doesn't take Hollywood actors seriously and we admittedly had low expectations for Shields in such a key theatrical role; but she most definitely held her own on the stage as a dramatic catalyst and brought believable compassion to the production. David Wilson Barnes offers up a strong, stoic, and grounding force of the play as the Catholic priest and psychologist Father Damien Karras. Often breaking the fourth wall to inject philosophical takes on faith, morality, and humanity, Richard Chamberlain is a cultivated and sympathetic Father Merrin. Finally, in supporting roles, Harry Groener (as Burke Dennings) and the lovely Roslyn Ruff (as Carla) bring a gentle, genuine air of grace to the whole production.

Under the direction of John Doyle, The Exorcist is an intricately esoteric, tasteful, stylish thriller that uses simple dramatic techniques to constantly build suspense. This stage version of The Exorcist is not the all out evil vomitorium that the film is, but there are some interesting special effects to be had during the performance. Frightening loud and startling noises, bright flashes of bluish light, mid-air levitation, churchy-smelling incense, and a specially piped in demonic-stench that wafts through the theatre are all part of the experience. Set design by Scott Pask is aesthetically sombre, gothic, and full of symbolic innuendo.

The Exorcist is playing at the Geffen Playhouse through August 12. Tickets are available online or at the door. Ticket prices range from $70 to $80, with special discounts available for students.