When one is passionate about something like theatre and attends productions frequently, one is always on the look-out for the unusual or unique performance. It piques curiosity and keeps interest fresh. This reviewer received such an opportunity when South Camden Theatre Company (SCTC) and Joseph M. Paprzycki presented EXORCISM written in 1919 by master American playwright, Eugene G. O’Neill. EXORCISM is a one act play which, subsequent to an initial production in 1920, was retracted by O’Neill as he gathered all the copies and made it known that EXORCISM was not to be produced again. No further explanation was given and with that EXORCISM became a “missing” O’Neill play.
A script copy was discovered in 2010 and Paprzycki (a true O’Neill fanatic) moved heaven and earth to bring this discovered piece to SCTC even bowing to licensing pressure to call it a “workshop” production. To expand the EXORCISM experience since it is a one act play, SCTC added a talkback forum at its conclusion to address a key question…“Does the work itself transcend the wishes of the author?”
The production was staged exquisitely in a set reminiscent of the Ash Can school of design. Standalone slatted walls defined the upstairs space while raising the stage floor and lighting beneath gave a sense of the omnipresent bar under the feet of these characters. Close attention to set detail down to the pitcher/bowl wash stand brings the audience immediately into the time and place. The tepid, almost cold, lighting (designed creatively by Andrew Cowles) added to the sense of desperation in this squalid New York City rooming house.
O’Neill was new at his craft and those who are familiar with O’Neill’s later works would recognize aspects of characters that will reappear and be defined more completely in later works. In EXORCISM Sean Close portrays Ned Malloy with a close-to-frenetic energy that is engaging but doesn’t allow the audience much time to understand his motivations. Close is ably supported by Bob Weick as Malloy’s alcoholic, enabling roommate, Jimmy, and Eric J. Pedersen strutting the stage as Major Andrews trying vainly to exercise his lost authority. Randall McCann causes audience teeth to clench with his effective portrayal of Edward, Malloy’s father, as a distant, self-concerned man of wealth dealing with his son’s torment but not coming close to understanding the why of it. Even the very small role of Nordstrum played by Frank Halbiger fits with the temperament of this piece showing that Paprzycki took no short cuts in bringing this piece to its full realization.
Every person in the audience was not only attentive to the production but also attentive and participatory during the talkback facilitated by Kevin Riordan, a local reporter/columnist. Various suggestions were made and opinions were obtained regarding the question of the audience “right” versus the playwright “right”. There, of course, is no “right” answer but the questions raised make it reasonable to believe that this production and being one of the few people in the United States to see it will make it…an unforgettable experience.
Written by Eugene G. O’Neill
Directed by Joseph M. Paprzycki
January 18-20, 2013
Waterfront South Theatre
South Camden Theatre Company
400 Jasper Street
Camden, NJ 08104
Box Office: 866-811-4111