Culture > Theater
Associated Press/Photo by Noreen Heron and Associates

The Screwtape Letters


Issue: "Your right to vote," July 31, 2010

Coming to New York and wanting to see an off-Broadway play (perhaps with a non-Christian friend)? I'd recommend The Screwtape Letters, a sizzling dramatization of C.S. Lewis' classic that stars Max McLean as a smoking-jacketed devil in a skull-lined study.

McLean, an award-winning actor and church elder, has now done the high-energy performance about 350 times in various cities (see WORLD, Nov. 1, 2008), so he doesn't worry about forgetting lines-but he still takes batting practice before a performance. One evening I watched him, 40 minutes before showtime, rolling his r's and popping his p's for each soliloquy's signoff: "Your affectionate uncle, Scrooo-tay-pe."

Then he went to his dressing room, put on an undershirt with a sewn-in pocket in the back for a microphone, and did his own makeup-adding a little devilish red to his forehead and nose-as he listened to the sounds of the audience filling the 300-seat theater, with the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil playing in the background. The music, McLean said, starts the process of "making a connection with the audience so they're in this world with you."

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That world, as designed by C.S. Lewis and brought to life by McLean, is one in which Satan's psychologists are working overtime to get humans to ignore Christ and live on pride. For 75 minutes McLean's Screwtape responds, with increasing desperation, to letters from above that show a new Christian growing in grace despite numerous devilish attempts at distraction.

As Screwtape races around the stage, becoming frustrated and disheveled as he realizes he's losing "the patient" to God, we learn more about the devil's lures, including contented worldliness and disdain for "Puritan" virtues.

Afterward McLean spoke about the challenge and the satisfaction: "a lot of energy expended to get this dense material across in a way that the audience could enjoy and be edified. Their response at the curtain was deeply gratifying."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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