Max McLean Brilliant in Theatrical Adaptation of CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters
This play is making its way throughout various cities around the Nation. See it!
Max McLean's presence, vocal cadence, facial and bodily expression and theatrical talent captivates the audience. He inserts you right into the center of a morally inverted universe by reaching into the center of our human emotions, the heart. That is what makes good theatre so good - and this is truly good theatre.
Max McLean portraying Screwtape
NORFOLK,VA (Catholic Online) - I had the pleasure of attending the first night's performance of the theatrical adaptation of CS Lewis' masterpiece on the Moral Life, the Screwtape Letters, in Norfolk, Virginia. Max McLean was brilliant in his portrayal of Screwtape. Screwtape is the demon uncle who mentors his nephew/student named "Wormwood" on the task of temptation.
The book contains a series of letters between the two which are intended to assist the student in his assigned task of tempting an unnamed man who is called the "patient", away from the path of faith, love and virtue. These letters from Screwtape contain "affectionate" instructions. However, one soon finds there is no true affection in these letters, in spite of their ending salutations. That is because there is no love in Hell.
From the moment this superb production begins, Max McLean commands both the stage and the character. His captivating presence, vocal cadence, facial and bodily expression and theatrical talent captivate the audience. He never lets go, offering a ninety minute experience that changes the participant. He inserts you right into the center of a morally inverted universe created by the genius of CS Lewis in his masterful treatment of the meaning of life and the corrosive reality of evil.
McLean does this not by appealing as much to the mind - as done so well in the book - but by reaching into the center of our human emotions, the heart. That is what makes good theatre so good - and this is truly good theatre. This capacity is also what makes for a brilliant actor - and Max Mclean is clearly numbered among the best in this reviewer's opinion.
In an interesting twist, the play opens with Screwtape addressing a graduation banquet for young demons who are graduating from the Tempters College. The original Screwtape Letters were written in 1941. However, the material adapted for this beginning was taken from "Screwtape Proposes a Toast", a 1962 essay Lewis wrote which was included in a collection of writings on theology, literature and ethics entitled "They Asked for a Paper". It is now routinely included in most editions of the Screwtape Letters.
After writing Screwtape Letters, Lewis vowed not to write another letter, even though the requests multiplied. He wrote of his experience of writing the letters, "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. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done. It would have smothered my readers if I had prolonged it."
Yet, some 20 years later, Lewis wrote the essay, "Screwtape Delivers a Toast" in response to a request from the Saturday Evening Post. Using the toast to begin this play was brilliant. It showed, from the beginning of this production, the creative genius of McLean and his colleague, Jeff Fiske. Together they adapted this book of letters for the Stage. The two work together in the "Fellowship for the Performing Arts". After seeing this play, I will follow their work very closely going forward.
Max told me in an earlier interview that a Theatre professor from Drew University once told him in a letter that he would "make a good Screwtape." He read Lewis' book when he was in his twenties and it had a profound effect on him. He wondered what the professor meant. Fortunately, it later led him to recast the book for the theatre. He was convinced that this CS Lewis masterpiece was "so brilliant and so consistent" in presenting a "morally inverted universe" that it had to performed onstage.
Max was also convinced that the character Lewis created, Screwtape, was one of the great literary creations of the twentieth century. He knew that if they "could find this character theatrically it would be something wonderful." Well, after having experienced the Screwtape Letters on May 1, 2012 at the Wells Theatre in downtown Norfolk Virginia, I can say Max McLean has created that something wonderful. And, he offers it to all of us. I can also affirm that the Professor was correct about Max. The acting was so superb; I was truly in the presence of Screwtape.
The letters reveal the nature of all counterfeit "affection" as the relationship between student and teacher devolves into denigration, manipulation and abuse. The feigned affection of Screwtape is the cover for a relationship of use - with the ultimate aim of consuming Wormwood in its hungry malice. The selection of the few letters used in the play, out of over thirty in the book, shows that the writers understand the essence of CS Lewis.
The stark and foreboding set depicts the barrenness of hell with its ...
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