In my previous post, I offered some comments on The Screwtape Letters, a book by C.S. Lewis that I recently reread before attending a theater performance of the work (Screwtape Theatre). This post will present some thoughts on the theater production.
What can I say? I loved the play. It did everything a play is supposed to do, engaging my senses and drawing me into the world of the book. There were some deviations from the book, but I thought these helped the overall experience and did not distract from the message.
The play was a basic monologue by Max McLean acting as Screwtape, the senior demon tempter and author of the letters. The prologue shows Screwtape addressing the recent graduates of the Tempters’ Training College for Young Devils. He encourages them in their task and bids loyalty to their “Father below.” The rest of the play takes place in Screwtape’s office as he dictates letters to be sent to Wormwood, his nephew and advisee in his first temptation assignment.
In the beginning of the play, Screwtape looks distinguished and confident with his clothes and appearance depicting this demeanor. He wears red (of course), starting with a red military-like jacket at the banquet before changing into another red jacket in his office. His look is crisp and dignified with slicked back hair. As the play progresses, Screwtape begins to unravel. His demeanor is marked by fits of rage, frustrations and helplessness. By the end, he looks desparate, losing his jacket and looking much more disheveled. The distinguished expert is shown to possess a strong, outer shell with little strength of character.
As I read through the book, I noticed the basic storyline of the Patient, tracing his life in somewhat of a chronological fashion while addressing topical aspects of temptation. The characterization of Screwtape, however, was something that I had not noticed in the book. While you see Screwtape lose his temper and issue threats in the book, the play depicts Screwtape’s journey as a character.
A second character in the play, Toadpipe, was the secretary and took dictation for the letters in addition to delivering and receiving the letters to the underworld’s mailbox. Screwtape’s secretary did not speak, but (he/she/it) contributed some screeches, wailing and retching sounds while also acting out some of the scenes on earth during the letters. Toadpipe played a much bigger role in the play than in the book, but this character added dimension and variety to the monologue.
While at the play, I learned about the organization responsible for the production. The Fellowship for the Performing Arts (FPA) is an organization founded by Max McLean, the main actor in the play. The mission of the organization is to “produce theatre from a Christian worldview that engages a diverse audience” (handbill). In an article in the handbill, McLean further states that the group’s objectives seek to “capture Christianity’s intellectual integrity and dramatic power” while offering a quality theater production that would appeal to a diverse audience and receive support from the broader Christian community. The organization has been responsible for a dramatic reading of the Gospel of Mark, and from what I understand, Lewis’ The Great Divorce, an adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy is being planned for next year.
One of the highlights of the evening came after the conclusion of the play with a Q & A session. Max McLean answered questions on the book, the production and the organization. It was great to hear his reflections on his goals and aspirations for theater, and it was admirable to see a professional actor who wanted to practice his craft in accordance with his Christian profession.
The book presents the genius and insight of an intellectual giant and one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century, C. S. Lewis. The play delivered the gist of the book, deriving most of the monologue straight from Lewis’ words, while heightening the sense experience. If you have an opportunity, it would be worth while to see this play. I would recommend reading the book before seeing the play (and probably afterward as well) to gain the most benefit. It is certainly worthwhile to grapple with the work of Satan in this world and his role of temptation in our own lives.