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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.”
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.
Dan DeWitt, dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., told the Witness McLean’s production of “Screwtape” is as “memorable as Lewis’ devilish correspondence.”
DeWitt, who teaches courses about the 20th Century’s most prolific Christian apologist, saw a Louisville performance of the play. Its “vivid imagery … will not soon, if ever, be forgotten,” he said.
“I’m thankful the play is faithful to the book, focusing on the senior demon to junior demon exchanges instead of attempting to act out episodes described” in the novel, DeWitt said.
Lewis, the author of many Christian favorites, including the Chronicles of Narnia, has sometimes been criticized for some of his theological views.
DeWitt grants Lewis held some views that likely would not “get an ‘amen’ on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Still, DeWitt asserts “much of the heavily debated points in his thought come from his works of fiction,” which were not intended as “didactic prose.” Lewis himself warned in his preface to The Screwtape Letters that not all that Screwtape said can be trusted, DeWitt noted.
Lewis’ fiction should not be treated as a Bible commentary or as a “treatise on theological issues,” DeWitt said. Instead, Christians should read Lewis’ works “with eyes opened to see them for what they are, hearts prepared to appreciate so much of what is helpful and minds trained to analyze the more problematic passages.”
Art Aryis, president of Kingstone Media, a publisher of comics and graphic novels presenting biblical truth, is a fan of C.S. Lewis who has not yet seen “Screwtape.”
“One of my favorite C.S. Lewis sayings is that ‘reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning,’” Ayris told the Witness. Ayris is also executive pastor of First Baptist Church in Leesburg.
“As people of God, we have been entrusted with the whole truth, and I embrace media productions that stretch our imaginations in God-honoring ways,” he said, adding that Christians should support “Screwtape” and “enter into a sanctified imagination.”
Screwtape was first published in 1941 as a series of weekly articles in a church publication, The Guardian. The following year, the book was published and was an immediate success. In 1947, Lewis was featured on the cover of Time magazine.
Lewis dedicated Screwtape to his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, among many other works.
The Orlando performances of “The Screwtape Letters” are Feb. 2 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, while the Jacksonville performances are March 9 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Moran Theater. For ticket availability, pricing and further information, go to: www.screwtapeonstage.com.
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