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Exorcism Topic Makes a Strange Stage Performance!

Updated on May 29, 2013

Before Linda Blair and The Exorcist

Before Linda Blair, and "The Exorcist", there was Paddy Chayesfsky's "The Tenth Man". This is a "small play"; did not become a TV show or Movie, and believe it or not it was a "black comedy". Set in a Jewish community, a young woman is possessed by a "dibbuk" - a demon, in common parlance. The comedic part is that 10 men are needed to excorcize the demon, but getting 10 average Jewish guys who want to do this is a difficult challenge. The play ends with the Jewish excorcism and "complications".

In the play, the old men of a shabby orthodox synagogue find they have only nine worshippers in attendance. They wish to banish demons from Evelyn Foreman, the granddaughter of one of their members, the old men find they have only nine worshipers in attendance. Jewish religious law requires a minyan, or quorum of ten. So they convince a clean‐cut young man who happens to be passing by to join them. He is Arthur Brooks, who turns out to be possibly even more troubled than Evelyn. The exorcism expels his devils, but not the girl's. Arthur, however, has fallen in love with Evelyn and believes his love will cure her. This briefly tells the story. Paddy Chayefsky's story was intended to be mystical and inspirational, in addition to funny and human and appealing.

Kalamazo, Michigan and St. Joseph, Michigan

My Father, Burt French, chose the hit play to do because it was fresh, and urban, and strangely dramatic for a comedy. For 7 years, Burt brought plays and musicals to the Kalamazoo, Michigan and St. Joseph, Michigan stage. Hot from TV stardom he was known for his quickly paced, high energy directing style. He put Kalamazoo Civic on the map all through the 50's. Not far from the Chicago stage and the Cleveland Playhouse, Kalamazoo was the hottest Community Theatre going. After he left, they were never able to get his kind of Director again. He also was Director in St. Joseph, Michigan.

Like "Poltergeist", the Production was Plagued.

Burt would use my Mother as Costumier and Box Office Manager, and as it turns out his 13 year old son, Christofer was about to do his first bit as Stage Manager. Not only is the play about not being able to get enough volunteers, but the production was kind of "spooky too". My father kept on getting people who would back out on the Stage Manager role. So, he picked his son, who was just dealing with puberty to handle the job.

The Kabbalah, Jewish Mysticism, Astrology and The Big Questions -

Life is definitely woven. It is like a mural. It is not separate snapshots and compartmentalized experiences. It was this particular play in the early 60's that set me off on a life time of study about "hidden" things. Night after night, I would listen to Chayefsky's dialogue. Rehearsel after rehearsel, performance after performance. I would "hold book" too, reading the play over and over again as a "prompter". Being raised in the theatre exposed me to Shakespearean dialogue, along with the works of American playwrights. It was a tremendous educator, and much of it was "osmotic". It was not formal as much as it was "Chris the Sponge" picking up concepts, precepts, dramatic conflicts, human interchange and tragedy, all from just being around production after production, year after year. And so, because of "The Tenth Man", I began a life long interest in the mystical, the non-traditional and the esoteric. Paddy Chayefsky also penned "Altered States", not under his name, but only because he rejected certain aspects of the production, creatively. This was also about controversial "altered states" showing that Paddy's interests led me down certain paths.

A Dan Brown Mindset -

In back of Orthodox Christianity, there is mystical Christianity. This play started me off in a "searching style". Because of this play, I looked at all research and exploration as being a search for the non-orthodox. I would ask the continuing question - "What is off the beaten track? What is not being talked about? What is the rejected teacher saying about this? I want to hear from the one who is being burnt at the stake, not the one who is doing the burning."

When our actors played the "possessed" state, they did not have the advantage of special effects. Linda Blair's head spinned around, spewed green vomit and levitation. Our actors could only stiffen up and act in spastic kinds of movements. Visually, it was not like the movies or "The Excorcist". It was just unnerving. It was tense. It made people uncomfortable. As Stage Manager, I would watch our actors and ask myself about the whole question of possession. I began to read about it. Later, as a Minister in a pastoral setting in the 1970's, I would encounter a couple real cases in which it appeared for all the world like a real possession. I guess that is a topic for another blog. At the time, there was just me and the Big Questions. This play started all that out. And about 50 years later, after decades of study, I realize this was a seminal moment in my life.

Burt's Legacy -

These experiences were novel and new and definitely not what the average kid in Kalamazoo was going through, but my experience as a Stage Manager in "The Tenth Man" was the most important "back stage/production" experience of my life.

My father, Burt French passed in 1999 and I have him to thank for all of these incredible life vignettes. His professional legacy is one thing, but we children think of his legacy in a different way. We think of the exposure we got to the theatrical life. I have only told a small portion of them, but as an array of experiences, there is hardly any kind of youthful background I can imagine that is equal to the complete broad mural of human psychology and the kind of "theatrical pickling" that I had. When I see a play, I automatically think of all of the work invoved in making it happen. As the curtain opens, all I can envision is the bee hive of human activity going on at that moment, and all of the human work and preparation it took to get to that one spot - Act One, Scene One.

Check out Christofer's New Website at:


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