“ 'Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.' Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”
Thus dictated the infamous words of the Master Demon before a packed Moran Theatre audience who responded enthusiastically March 9th last Saturday evening to the onstage interpretation of the C S Lewis classic The Screwtape Letters the collective correspondence between mentor and mentee on the best strategies useful to undertake in the undermining of the human race and the eating of souls.
Sponsored by the Fellowship For The Performing Arts, The Screwtape Letters began its National Tour three years ago covering over 50 major cities throughout the US captivating audiences with the live adaptation of the 1942 epistolary novel penned by celebrated essayist/Christian apologist Clives Staples Lewis.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, Screwtape is an elder demon instructing his nephew Wormwood on the fine arts of subduing his victim, a British subject referred to as “the patient.” Wormwood is in training. God is the Enemy who must be avoided, and thwarted at all costs. Wormwood is on the frontline of battle. If Wormwood would simply follow directions suitably all would be lost…the intended purpose, of course. Should he fail during this phase of his internship, the results will be quite disastrous for him, although the audience is unaware of the horrific outcome until the very conclusion.
The series of letters are brought to life as Screwtape messages his protégée with words intending to encourage the demise of his given assignment while giving us, the audience a rear window look into the dastardly methods prescribed from the demoniac’s point of view.
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out,” says Screwtape as he strolls across the stage. He pauses to reflect a little bit later to Toadpipe who is dutifully taking copious notes, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Selective musings such as these from Screwtape as he dictates to his minion, Toadpipe, the faithful groveling assistant, not only causes laughter amongst those seated in the playhouse, it also gives pause – for a sobering afterthought.
The fascinating well-spoken prose by award-winning actor Brent Harris, who played Scar in the National Tour of The Lion King, along with the interaction of Toadpipe, well performed by Marissa Molnar of the NYC: Broken Box Mime Theater entertained and delighted those whose thunderous applause and standing ovations at the climax of this two-demon show echoed throughout the theater.
The performance was followed by a question and answer period in which those deciding to linger afterward were given the opportunity to ask both actor and director pointed questions about their production.
“Given the growing hostility toward Christianity in our society, how do you account for such dramatic success?” an audience participant posed.
“We measure success in different ways. And we choose really excellent actors,” responded Max McLean, Artistic Director who created the role of Screwtape at Westside Theater in New York; Mercury Theatre, Chicago and Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. McLean is also famous for the one man presentation of Mark’s Gospel.
Although written over 70 years ago, The Screwtape Letters is amazingly contemporary using skilled artists acquired from all backgrounds and levels of expertise.
“We don’t ask people what their faith walk is. We realize that everyone in the audience does not think the same way. We employ Jews, Muslims, Christians, Middle Easterners; we choose the best of whomever is available.”
Sight gags and wit cleverly infused throughout The Screw Tape Letters make for an enjoyable presentation with perhaps a reading enticement for those unfamiliar with C S Lewis works. Its tour this year continues onward to Salt Lake City, Lincoln, Nebraska; Modesto, Glendale, California; Colorado Springs, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, to name a few.