The Exorcist Opening Night Party at the Geffen Playhouse

Brooke Shields, Richard Chamberlain and Author William Peter Blatty Celebrate the World-Premiere of “The Exorcist” at the Geffen Playhouse


Following a standing ovation at the July 11 Opening Night performance of “The Exorcist” at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, the audience adjourned to the lobby for drinks, a dinner buffet and a chance to mingle with the stellar cast, as well as the acclaimed production team. Among others were Brooke Shields, Richard Chamberlain, Harry Groener, Emily Yetter, David Wilson Barnes, Manoel Felciano, Stephen Bogardus, Tom Nelis and Roslyn Ruff.

“I helped Satan float the girl,” said Teller (of the magic duo Penn & Teller), of his role in the production. Given no visible cables in the scene, in which possessed-by-the-devil Regan MacNeil levitates off her bed, I asked the obvious question: How? “We sacrificed a sinless child,” he said.

Calling the play both “spooky,” and “exciting,” Richard Chamberlain said, “I love the play,” emphasizing the word, “love,” and citing the play’s formality and musicality as two of his many reasons. Chamberlain holds the title role, that of exorcist Father Merrin.

“The first surprise is that you could put (‘The Exorcist’) on the stage,” said William Peter Blatty, author of the original 1971 bestseller, made into a blockbuster film in 1973. Clearly pleased with the Geffen’s world-premiere of this production, he said, “It’s going to be a huge hit.” 

Blatty said that some years ago, there had been talk of turning the material into an opera, but that hadn’t panned out. The decision to make this version with playwright John Pielmeier and director John Doyle, however, had been an easy one. Aside from appreciating Pielmeier’s approach, he said, “Bill Friedkin (director of the film) told me that John Doyle is the finest theatrical director in the world.”

A Tony Award-winner for his pared-down productions of “Sweeney Todd” and “Company,” Doyle figured of the 250 plays he’s directed, about 60% of them have been straight plays; 40% of them, musicals. In addition, he has directed operas, including the 2007 Los Angeles Opera production of “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” with Patti LuPone.

Regarding “The Exorcist,” he said, “I liked the challenge of finding the theatrical language in the piece,” Doyle said.

And as much of the party talk revolved around the play’s possible future on Broadway, we asked Doyle for his prediction. “We have to wait and see with all these things,” he said, and then added, “Fingers crossed.”

Never mind that the book is more than 40 years old and concerns demonic possession. Also the writer of “Agnes of God,” Pielmeier said a higher belief isn’t necessary to appreciate “The Exorcist.”

Updating the original by referencing Cambodia, Somalia and Rwanda, he said, “It’s a very contemporary story. One reason it’s been so popular for so long is that it’s out of time and out of place.”

Pielmeier said that ultimately, the play delivers a positive message. “In the end, the play is about courage and faith,” he said. “It’s about everyone.”  

Among others in the audience were Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne Douglas, magician Ricky Jay, Tony-winning theater director Daniel Sullivan, Rosanna Arquette of “Pulp Fiction,” Ken Watanabe of “Batman Begins,” Tom Irwin of “My So-Called Life,” Glenne Headley of “Mr. Holland’s Opus,”  
Sara Botsford of “E.N.G.,” Dan Donohue of “In Gayle We Trust,” Leonard Kelly-Young of “Rampart,” Suzanne Somers of “Three’s Company” and “Step by Step,” Lauren McFall, Chris Brown, Brad Fleischer, Chris Shyer and Inger Tudor.

Photo: Brooke Shields, who stars as Chris MacNeil, looking glamorous at The Exorcist Opening Night Party at the Geffen Playhouse (photo,



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The Exorcist Opening Night Party at the Geffen Playhouse

Published July 12, 2012 – Ellen Olivier, Society News LA