Eugene O’Neill Exorcism: The Lost Play


Parker Burningham

Artifact: Exorcism

By:  Eugene O’Neill

Exorcism is a one act play written by Eugene O’Neill.  The story follows Ned, a young man of twenty four who has been through hell and back.  After being disowned by his father, separated from his wife, struggled with depression, alcoholism, and now has to live with an overly positive, down on his luck roommate/friend named Jimmy, Ned is a the end of his ropes.  Constantly contemplating the meaning of life and death and contemplating the idea of suicide (which he attempts in the middle of the show).  The show is actually said to be Eugene O’Neill’s idea of an autobiography.  He did not release the script in his life time, saying that it was too dark and not right to be released.  O’Neill’s wife released the script after his death.  The show is full of questions about why life goes on, why not give up, and can life get better.  Exorcism makes us truly think about our own lives, and how we handle the saddest moments of our lives.

The biggest theme of this show is the idea of suicide.  Ned believes that suicide is his only escape from the hardships that life has put him in.  After forcing Jimmy to get out of the apartment for a while Ned attempts suicide by ingesting copious amounts of pills.  In the scene change following we are informed that 24 hours have passed and that Jimmy had saved Ned from his fate of death.  After being angry with Jimmy, Ned begins to see his life turn around.  His father comes and accepts him back into his arms, his wife reaches out to accept him back, he is accepted into a rehab facility, and he sees his relationships with all of the people in his life begin to move in an upward positive direction.  This course of events makes us think as the audience.  Did Ned make the right choice in attempting suicide?  Or did he make the wrong choice?  Should he have held out and waited for things to turn around in a better direction?  Or is the only reason things did turn around, is because he did attempt suicide?  The audience is taken for an emotional roller coaster ride through the course of the show as we watch the decisions and choices that Ned must make.

Good theater makes us question ourselves.  It makes us question the things around us, the times we are in, and the people and relationships we engage with.  Exorcism is a prime example of this.  It forces the audience to be taken on an emotional roller coaster with the characters in the show, and with the feelings they feel.  Eugene O’Neill was largely ahead of his time when he wrote this.  Many of his other works showed this incredible talent to take the audience for a ride and make them really feel with the characters.  But it is a shame that this show was not released in his lifetime, because had he been alive during its release, we could quite possibly have seen some of the greatest productions of this amazing work of art.



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