Last year, I reported back to you after seeing the exceptional Max McLean’s theatrical adaptation of The Great Divorce. If you would like to read about it, click here. This past weekend, my wife and I attended McLean’s theatrical adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s 1941 novel, The Screwtape Letters. The show was amazing!
The Screwtape Letters is a book that is especially meaningful to me, as it was the focus of my first published work—a study guide based on the book. I found great satisfaction in both creating the study guide and leading it at my church. But moreover, it was an opportunity to discover the genius and creativity of Lewis’s mind, and to ponder how he formulated the idea for the book.
I know that many of you have both read the book and completed my study. However, for those who haven’t, here’s a quick overview of the book.
The Screwtape Letters is a brilliant and satirical look at spiritual warfare and the dynamics of temptation. Screwtape, a senior demon in the bureaucracy of Hell, writes letters to his incompetent nephew Wormwood, a junior devil. The younger demon’s assignment is to corrupt a young man, referred to as the patient, who lives in London during the tumultuous days of World War II.
McLean brought the book to the stage during a 2005 national tour, performing as Screwtape in productions in New York City and London. The play has garnered praise from audiences, with over 600,000 people having seen it already. Critics have also voiced their approval with The Wall Street Journal calling it “Wickedly Witty. One Hell of a Good Show.” The New York Times said, “The Devil has rarely been given his due more perceptively.” Christianity Today found it, “A Profound Experience!”
With only two actors, the show promises an intimate experience for the audience. Brent Harris, a veteran actor who played Scar in The Lion King national tour, reprised his role as Screwtape alongside Tamala Bakkensen as Toadpipe, Screwtape’s scribe.
Although there are 31 letters in Lewis’ book, the play only uses a selection of 24 to create 15 letters that Screwtape recites. And when I say recite, I mean recite perfectly, with no mistakes. Harris has memorized a majority of the book, and his dramatic 90-minute delivery left the audience spellbound. To embody Screwtape’s character, he wears a red brocade jacket, vest, and tie, and often dictates his letters to Wormwood while lounging in his leather chair with his feet up on a footstool. The stage was adorned with a backdrop of skeletal remains, symbolizing the successful corruption of patients.
Although Lewis only mentioned Toadpipe once in his book, the character has a more significant role in the play adaptation. The lower-demon not only transcribes Screwtape’s letters but also embodies the human personalities that Screwtape describes, bringing them to life.
The show is both entertaining and thought-provoking, inspiring viewers to thoughtfully reflect on their own spiritual lives in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. In the book and play, Screwtape advises Wormwood to manipulate his patient with minor sins that will accumulate over time. Screwtape says:
Following the performance, McLean once again led a Q&A session on stage. If he could have entertained every question, I’m sure we would have been there for hours. Regrettably, we had to wrap up our time together, as the crew needed to dismantle the set and transport the play to Washington, D.C.
If the show ever comes to a performance hall near you, I highly encourage you to see it. You won’t regret it. Click here for more information about tour dates.
Before going, I strongly recommend that you to read the book if you haven’t already. A quick refresher wouldn’t hurt if you read it in the past. During the Q&A time, McLean requested a show of hands from those who had read the book and those who hadn’t. I was taken aback by the number of people who came without having read the book or knowing anything about it. I’d be very interested in learning their perspective on what they saw.
If you’ve ever seen the play, I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Just click the contact button above.
Also, if you’re looking for a Bible study for the Fall, you might consider getting a group together and doing The Screwtape Letters. And, if you have teenagers, I have a teen version just for them too!