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The Moore Goes to Hell for ‘The Screwtape Letters’

A traveling stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s novel gives the devil his day.

By Laura Dannen February 25, 2011

From left: Beckley Andrews (Toadpipe, aka Wormwood) and Max McLean (Screwtape) star in The Screwtape Letters. Photo courtesy Gerry Goodstein.

If you know nothing of C.S. Lewis other than his journeys through a wardrobe and into Narnia, you’ve missed the fiendish ways he satirizes human nature. One of his more popular novels, 1942’s The Screwtape Letters, lampoons modern vice as two of the devil’s henchmen—a sort-of intern demon Wormwood and his elder, wiser uncle Screwtape—discuss how to to coax a human to the dark side.

“We rescue annually thousands of humans from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life," Screwtape boasts. It’s a busy job, this “spiritual warfare.”

It’s also a morality lesson (Lewis was a prominent Christian writer), albeit a funny one—the kind of smart dialogue about love, war, and marriage playwrights would trade their Tonys for. New York actor-scribe Max McLean saw the potential of Letters and adapted it for the stage with director Jeff Fiske; the play ran for 309 performances in New York, and did brisk business at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. and Chicago’s Mercury Theatre before that.

This weekend the Moore Theatre becomes the bowels of hell—inspired by the catacombs of Rome—where the devil’s psychiatrist, Screwtape, counsels young Toadpipe (aka Wormwood) in an “eerily stylish office,” McLean said. The 90-minute adaptation stays true to the book, taking 98 percent of the script from Lewis, which means there’s a chance Screwtape will face a formidable foe in the form of a Christian woman: “a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss.”

“C.S. Lewis’s genuine respect for people who disagree with him make him loved by folks of all faiths,” McLean said in an email. “He likes a good argument and likes to tell a good story. The Screwtape Letters is one of the best examples of reverse psychology one could read."

The devil gets his day on Saturday, February 26, at 4 and 8pm at the Moore Theatre.

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