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Shortly after the debut of Exorcism in 1920, Eugene ONeill suddenly canceled production and ordered all extant copies of the drama destroyed. For over ninety years, it was believed that the play was irrevocably lost, until it was recently discovered that ONeills second wife had in fact retained a copy, which she later gave to the prolific screenwriter and producer Philip Yordan.In early 2011, Yordans widow discovered the typescript of Exorcismcomplete with edits in ONeills own handin her late husbands vast trove of papers. The discovery and publication of Exorcism, a relatively early play in the ONeill corpus, furthers our knowledge of ONeills dramatic development and reveals a pivotal point in the career of this great American playwright.
Revolving around a suicide attempt, Exorcism draws on a dark incident in ONeills own life. This defining event led to his first serious efforts to write. Exorcism displays early examples of ONeills unparalleled skills of capturing deeply personal human drama, and it explores major themesmourning and melancholia, addiction and sobriety, tensions between fathers and sonsthat would permeate his later work. According to Yale Universitys Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library curator Louise Bernard, who acquired the play from a New York bookseller, Exorcism might be read as a preparatory sketch that resonates powerfully with Long Days Journey into Night, one that brings the ONeill family drama full circle in ways at once intimate and grandly conceived.