‘Screwtape Letters’ coming to Orlando, Jacksonville stages
Jan 23, 2013
By JAMES A. SMITH SR.

SCREWTAPE Brent Harris will star in a theatrical adaptation of C.S.&8200;Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters in both Orlando and Jacksonville. The novel is set in an office in Hell during World War II. Photo courtesy of Scott Suchman
ORLANDO (FBW)—A theatrical production of the Christian classic The Screwtape Letters will be performed in Orlando and Jacksonville in the coming weeks and are ideal opportunities for Christians to engage unbelievers about spiritual matters, according to its director.

“The Screwtape Letters” is a theatrical adaption of C.S. Lewis’ satirical novel of the same name in which a senior demon offers instructions to his nephew and junior demon in the arts of deceiving and tempting humans. Set in an office in Hell during World War II Great Britain, “His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, Under Secretary of the Satanic Lowerarchy,” reviles the “Enemy”—God—and teaches all things evil in correspondence dictated to his apprentice, Wormwood.

Adapted for the stage by Max McLean and Jeffrey Fiske, the 90-minute production has received rave reviews from Christian and secular publications. After a nine-month run in New York City and eights months in Chicago and Washington, D.C., the production is now it is third year on national tour, having appeared in more than 50 cities, including several in Florida. 

Lewis sought to “reveal the reality of spiritual warfare in everyday life,” McLean told Florida Baptist Witness.

Although Lewis found in writing the novel “it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long,” he said in a later edition. “The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. … It almost smothered me before I was done.”

McLean admits, however, playing Screwtape—which he has done more than 500 times—is “a lot of fun.” The contrast to Lewis’ experience in writing the novel, McLean said, is due to the difference in the “art of interpreting the language as opposed to creating it.”

THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS “His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, Under Secretary of the Satanic Lowerarchy,” played by Brent Harris, reviles the “Enemy”—God—and teaches all things evil in correspondence dictated to his apprentice, Wormwood. Photo courtesy of Scott Suchman
Further, McLean said portraying the character Screwtape has helped his own spiritual walk by being more aware of spiritual warfare.

“We really do let ourselves off the hook way to easily,” he said. “And Lewis reminds us that these things are very serious and need to be tended to. The power of the book is the ability to convict. … It shows a mirror to your own human nature.”

Lewis’ creation of a “morally inverted universe” is “probably the greatest example of reverse psychology in all of literature,” McLean said. 

The “big idea” of the theatrical adaptation, he said, was to make Screwtape “believable, make him likeable,” noting the Apostle Paul’s warning that Satan often masquerades as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).

“Screwtape,” directed by McLean, is a production of the Fellowship for the Performing Arts (FPA) in New York City.

The mission of the non-profit FPA, which McLean leads, is to “produce theater from a Christian worldview that can engage the imagination of a diverse audience,” he told the Witness

“Lewis’ ability to penetrate and go beyond the material curtain with extraordinary imaginative insight makes him ripe fruit for theatrical adaption that can speak to a diverse audience,” he said.

McLean said the play is an ideal opportunity for “believers to use their relational capital to invite unbelievers to an event that’s engaging, that’s entertaining and provocative, and promotes good dialogue.”

He will be at the Florida performances, and will lead a question-and-answer session following each.

The performances in Orlando—February 2—and Jacksonville—March 9—will feature Brent Harris as Screwtape. Harris recently concluded playing Scar in the national tour of “The Lion King,” among other credits. 

Harris opened for the first time this month as Screwtape. “He was magnificent,” McLean said.

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