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The Screwtape Letters
By Julia Furay
C.S. Lewis's famous theological novel was comprised entirely of missives written by Screwtape, a senior undersecretary to the Devil himself, to his nephew Wormwood. Screwtape has much advice for his protege, a junior demon who has been designated to tempt a newly baptized Christian. Both the novel and this two-hander adaptation by McLean and director Jeffrey Fiske, trace the story of this unknown human's soul.
Lewis's devil's view told battle of souls between heaven and hell is something of an odd candidate for theatricalization. Its brilliant premise is imaginative and evocative, but when you get down to it, the book is really a series of thoughtful (albeit backwards) theological essays. Like the play, the book is as intellectual as it is religious. It's certainly an unusual combination for this day and age when Lewis's brand of faith tends to feel a little old fashioned. That said, this production is extremely theatrical.
To begin with, McLean's juicy performance contains more than enough energy and focus to bring Lewis's text to life. Adding to the theatricality there's Wight's Toadpipe, who doesn't speak but expresses physically what Screwtape is telling us vocally. As McLean snorts and sputters about human virtues, she caricatures them for us. The production matches the cast's excellence, with Cameron Anderson's barren but evocative scenery nicely complemented by Tyler Micoleau's lighting design. As for the script, McLean and Fiske have stayed very faithful to C.S. Lewis's original, with the exception of a few visual flourishes. They've also included a fascinating prologue, which Lewis actually wrote many years after the novel's publication. Titled "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," this prologue features Screwtape in energetic form, speaking at the annual dinner ceremony of the Tempters' Training College for Young Devils and voicing disapproval with the younger generation. Though not directly related to his struggles with Wormwood, this is an excellent introduction to Screwtape's mindset as well as Lewis's scholarly language.
Actually, this is not a new production but a revival of The Screwtape Letters presented last year last year. Since it's been expanded you certainly get you money's worth though it does occasionally feel bloated. While the play's theology may not stick with you, its theatricality assuredly will.
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