Written by Alina Mae Wilson
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is one of the most thought-provoking plays, I have ever seen. It is witty, pragmatic, and as dense with social commentary as one would ever want a story from a demon’s viewpoint to be. During a talk-back Lead actor Max McLean mentioned that he hopes members of the audience will go read the book. You know what? I will.
Screwtape the main character is a higher-up demon who serves in the ranks of his the Father (the Devil). Throughout the play he is aided by his obsequious servant Toadpipe in the composition of letters to his lower-level nephew Wormwood. Screwtape’s letters are chock-full to the brim with advice for how his young nephew can lead a specific Patient (a mortal man) away from the Enemy (God), and thus obtain his soul for the demons’ consumption.
The majority of the show takes place in Screwtape’s office and the set could not be more suitable. We have a back wall made up of skeletons, a mailbox stationed near a ladder above the stage, and a comfortable-looking red armchair for Screwtape to recline in at will. The set is pretty standard fare without being so gimmicky it distracts, or so plain that there is no discernible change in location at all. But with light changes, sound effects, and fantastic acting, you need not fear–the audience is utterly transported.
So what makes The Screwtape Letters so interesting? Well, there is the obvious fact that the entire thing is from the viewpoint of one of Satan’s evil minions. Given that Screwtape’s main goal is to advise his nephew in leading a human soul astray. He spends much of his time lecturing Wormwood, on what are the desirable qualities that make Christians sin. It is a dialogue which prompts both self-examination and contemplation–what exactly is damaging to a person’s soul? Am I living my life to the fullest? What are some of the small ways that we might be erring over a long period of time? Although a great many people will read these questions and have ready made answers spring to mind, CS Lewis’s works give voice to a consideration of these thoughts and more with a depth that is wholly unanticipated.
There are only two characters onstage–Screwtape (played by Max McLean) and his servant Toadpipe (played by Marissa Molnar). Both actors do an outstanding job. Molnar has no lines but uses her physicality to portray not only Toadpipe, but also to serve as a demonstration of all the different people the Patient might serve to encounter on earth. This is comedic as well as effective. McLean does all the talking (bravo sir) and manages to do it for more than an hour without sounding monotonous once. He is funny, he is frightening, and at times, he is every bit as warm as you could wish for your dear old uncle to be when he is giving counsel. The acting combined with the frequent movement and dazzling scenic effects prevents even one moment of tedium.
I have to address whether or not non-Christians will enjoy this play. It would be a lie for me to say that this show does not preach a lot. While Screwtape does make references to false Christians, there is a definite “be a Christian or be consumed by ravenous denizens of the Underworld” tint to the story. Tint, because it doesn’t explicitly say that, but it’s pretty strong in it’s conviction that being a truly believing Christian is the best way to go. That being said, anyone can enjoy a good discourse on morality–so I think people will have to make up their own minds about whether or not they should go. Just be prepared for the fact that this is not demonic presence for comedy’s sake, this is a story written entirely for the purpose of the Christian religion.
The problems with this play ultimately stem from my own preferences. It is a play that is a product of it’s time, written by a man, so it comes from a very masculine point of view–any and all females are written about as side notes in their relation to a mortal man. Also, I would like to get to know the patient a little bit more. We watch as devils keep surveillance over his life’s journey, yet we know very little about him as a person. This is undoubtedly because all information about him comes from Screwtape’s own perspective–Screwtape, who has no interest in him as an individual man, only as potential food, and how he can be primed for consumption. It would undoubtedly be different if the letters were from the heavenly perspective of an angel. I still can’t help wishing we were a little more informed.
The Screwtape Letters is a meaningful, entertaining, and soul searching play that makes a multitude of statements about what pleases Heaven–and many more about what pleases Hell. The play has moments of real comedy, while also sending out warning signals to the audience about the state of the human condition as we now have it. With only three more shows to go, I recommend you get your tickets as soon as possible.
7/16/2015 – 7/19/2015
**NOTE: NOT FOR CHILDREN UNDER 13 YEARS OF AGE