Max Mclean Screwtape Letters
Max Mclean Screwtape Letters – When I was young I spent (for reasons which need not detain us here) much time in church, where the only text that rivaled
The novel, a series of advisory epistles from a wise old devil called Screwtape to his young nephew Wormwood, who is engaged in corrupting a human, made a pleasant change from
Max Mclean Screwtape Letters
. I always liked their wry humor and the way Lewis argued so strongly for God’s goodness by showing the machinations of his imagined opponents.
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But I never expected to see them in theatrical form—and certainly not in a show as flat and boring as this one, created by its co-adaptor (with Jeffrey Fiske), director and performer Max McLean.
McLean seems to have missed the whole point of the book, which is that it is funny and witty as well as deeply serious. Lewis, a muscular Christian of the most intellectual kind, keenly and precisely notes the ways in which materialism, skepticism and cynicism all render God’s gift of love redundant and make man (‘the patient’) easy prey for the Devil.
But he presents his theology upside down, from the point of view of hell. So God is the enemy, the Devil ‘our father below’ and virtue seen as a vice. The text still strikes me as razor-sharp and thought-provoking; for example, Lewis’ view of the way society distorts the image of women so that men “long for things that cannot exist” is as relevant now as it was in the 1940s. And you don’t have to agree with his observation that “the surest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without milestones or signposts” to note both the wisdom of the phrase and the richness of the language.
But McLean chooses to deliver both text and moral in a way that shatters all reason and most humor. On a set of skulls and bones, and accompanied by a writhing and moaning scribe (Karen Eleanor Wight), he alternately utters and shouts the words without ever penetrating their meaning. The fact that he still pronounces his sign from ‘Screwtape’ in exactly the same way – with a long first syllable and a plosive p on the second – indicates how lazy and leaden this production is.
Devilish And Divine
There is no care or bending; subtlety and meaning are lost in a smug vanity project that is a parody of Lewis rather than a tribute to him. One hell of a disappointment. Something an actor never wants to hear is that an audience member made a connection between his performance and hell.
One night about five years ago, Max McLean had just that experience. He was performing his one-man play Genesis at the Playwrights Theater in Madison, N.J., when Jeffrey Fiske, then a theater professor at Drew University, approached him after a show and said he saw McLean’s potential to be bad — really bad. As in evil. As in one of literature’s most sinister villains, Screwtape.
“I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not,” McLean says with a laugh. Wearing khaki shorts, a yellow shirt and sandals, he sits in an empty Off-Broadway theater before an evening performance of the now critically and financially successful stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters.
At first, he couldn’t see how the epistolary novella, the second Christian work he read (after the New Testament), followed his “spiritual revolution” from “marginal agnostic” to conservative Presbyterian in his 20s.
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“I never saw it as dramatic literature,” says McLean, now in his mid-50s. “I saw it as devotional material.”
However, Fiske envisioned the potential and acquired the rights from the Lewis estate. He spent six months struggling with it before McLean joined the effort.
“Lewis writes such long sentences,” McLean said. “All those words don’t help us on stage. The most important thing we had to do was to thin out for theater.”
Six months later, they had a draft that was almost 99 percent Lewis’s words, which was one of their goals, but it was too close. They tried it in small workshops, but it was tough for McLean.
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“I was at a loss for words,” said McLean, a seasoned actor from regional theater and national tours in St. Mark’s Gospel and Genesis. “The words were bigger than me.”
Over the next six months, they experimented with lighting and sound design, narrowing the script from two hours to just under 90 minutes. The key to getting the script right was discovering the narrative arc that makes the story dramatic, which isn’t always apparent when you read and meditate on the 31 letters a few at a time.
It is actually a two-sided arc. One shows what happens to the man the devils try to tempt – his corruption and then his redemption – and the other follows Screwtape’s command of his world followed by his loss of control.
“We have twice the content of most shows and we’re half the length,” says McLean. “I feel like audiences want to dive into the meatiness of the play.”
The Screwtape Letter On Stage
So it seems. The run at the Westside Theater has been extended twice, now scheduled to play this fall. A national tour is in preparation and McLean has been asked to perform the show in South Korea.
Critics have also praised it. “One need not be a Christian to benefit from or enjoy The Screwtape Letters,” wrote New York Times critic Wilborn Hampton. “Whatever a person’s beliefs may be, human failings and weaknesses are largely the same the world over.”
Before taking up residence in New York this spring, the production was a hit at Chicago’s Mercury Theatre, where it ran for six months. It was also a success at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C., playing for 10 sold-out weeks. Last fall, it embarked on a national tour, filling houses in San Francisco, Phoenix, Houston, Austin, Louisville, Chattanooga and Ft. Lauderdale.
This is a testament to the script and of course the original story of a senior devil, Screwtape, who, through correspondence from hell to earth, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, an inept young devil-in-training, in the ways of winning souls. for “Our Father below”. When it was first published in 1942, it brought instant fame to the little-known Oxford Don, landing him on the cover of Time.
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Strutting around Screwtape’s creepy skull-encrusted office in Hell (fiendishly atmospheric scenic design by Cameron Anderson and lighting by Jesse Klug) or pontificating in a rich bass-baritone voice from his big leather armchair, McLean really gives the devil his due. Wearing a red and gold brocade smoking jacket (costume design by Michael Bevins), his thick salt and hair combed back, this Screwtape is a devil in love with himself. As he dictates his letters to his aptly reptilian servant, Toadpipe, (brilliantly performed by Elise Girardin, understudy to Karen Eleanor Wight), Screwtape clearly values every word and gesture.
“He really is pure pride,” says McLean. “He loves the way he looks, the way he dresses. He’s the smartest guy in the room. He is good at his job. He has the ability to compromise souls.”
While McLean says he’s having a ball portraying Screwtape — and it shows — Lewis reacted differently. “Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less joy,” he wrote. “Although it was easy to twist one’s mind into the devilish attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The work that I had to project myself into while talking through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and genius had to be excluded.”
“The play has increased my prayer life,” he says. “It really makes me look at our tendency toward pride and arrogance.”
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Lewis’s work will continue to appeal, McLean says, because of how “simple and inviting” he portrays Christianity.
“We want to experience our faith as well as possible, and we fail,” he says. “Lewis shows us how. He is a writer for the half-convinced. He makes it so appealing.” From left, Brett Harris as Screwtape holds court in a tantalizing “The Screwtape Letters” playing at New York’s Acorn Theatre. FPA
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The holiday season can be tough on everyone, and this season even a disciple of the devil is not immune. IN
Screwtape Letters’ Stage Production Still Going Strong, Returns To Salt Lake City On Saturday
, a theatrical adaptation by Jeffrey Fiske and Max McLean, of C.S. Lewis’s epistolary novel of the same name, Screwtape, a mid- to upper-level manager in the career counseling department of the Tempters Training College, exchanges letters with his “dear nephew Wormwood,” a recent graduate and seemingly promising graduate. (Things are not always as they seem.)
Wormwood is accused of tempting someone we know only as “the patient,” who has no idea that Beelzebub has a devil assigned to him. (Take a picture.) The patient has a loving wife, but he is on the verge of falling away from the “enemy” – God help him