Before "the Exorcist", a Movie About a Possessed Teenage Girl, There Was a Play About Jewish Exorcism "The Tenth Man"!
An Intense Seemingly Possessed Sexualized Female Seems To Make Movies Work
While "The Exorcist" came from the Roman Catholics, The "Dibbuk" came from Judaism.
"The Tenth Man". This is a "small play", 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 for a proper "quorum" to exorcize the demon, but getting 10 average Jewish guys who want to do this is a difficult challenge. The play ends with the Jewish exorcism and "complications". Paddy Chayefsky authored it. I Stage Managed it and it too was fraught with "difficulties", just like "The Exorcist"!
Before The Exorcist, There Was a Play About 10 Jewish Guys and a "Dibbuk"!
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".
In the play, the old men of a shabby orthodox synagogue find they have only nine worshipers 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".
"You Want Me To Help Do What to that Woman??"
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.
Like "Poltergeist" and "The Exorcist" the Production was Plagued with Mishaps.
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, and his first to professional challenge 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 great and funny dialogue. Rehearsal after rehearsal, performance after performance.
Being raised in the theater exposed me to Shakespearean dialogue, along with the works of American playwrights. It was a tremendous educator, and much of it was "osmotic". A youth like few others, I prize it.
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 -
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. Even though the Hot Topic of "Possession Tales" was not "de riguer" in the early 60's, this was definitely a local hit, fraught with strange happenings and "technical problems". It was a "baptism", (not to use a religious ideation), but that's what it was for me in live theater.
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.
Burt, chose the hit play to do because it was fresh, and urban, and strangely dramatic for a comedy. It was completely UNLIKE the hit movie -- The Exorcist. The Movie came out in the 70's; and in the late 50', this was a charming, crazy, offbeat comedy/romance. And it was my first Stage Manager gig.
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. (TV and Professional Theater at the Cleveland Playhouse in the 40's); later in the late 60's, I would play "Peter Van Daan" in the Diary of Anne Frank.
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 Theater going. After he left, they were never able to get his kind of Director again. He also was Director in St. Joseph, Michigan and Lubbock Theater Center.
A Life in the Theatre - First Part - A Townie with a Monkey - "Inherit The Wind"
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. (TV and Professional Theater at the Cleveland Playhouse in the 40's); later in the late 60's as irreplaceable fun and education. Later, I would play "Peter Van Daan" in The Diary of Anne Frank.
© 2009 Christofer French