“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters has finally graced the stage in Jeffrey Fiske’s adaptation of the beloved satire. Still around by popular demand, Max Mclean terrifies audiences in Chicago just as he has done in New York and D.C. Mclean portrays Screwtape, a very experienced Devil working in the bureaucracy that is Hell. Screwtape writes a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, who has just started out in the Temptation business and asks advice of his experienced uncle as to best sway his new human client to the “right” side. Mclean, who delivers almost the entire play in monologue form as he dictates his letters to his secretary, delivers his hellish lines with penetrating authority, taking great care not to overlook the small sins in favor of the big ones, because after all, “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
Reviewing this play is a bit difficult for me as I am thoroughly biased. The Screwtape Letters is one of my favorite books, and so seeing it portrayed in the flesh is fascinating. Though I greatly enjoyed the play, I must admit that it was different than I expected. As the picture to the left shows, the Screwtape of the play is lavishly dressed and extremely comfortable. Given that Screwtape is an Undersecretary of the Temptation offices, I always pictured him inundated in paperwork, miserable and expecting to be so. The very idea that Screwtape would appear comfortable in Hell seems not only contradictory to his character but practically impossible. Screwtape says that the enemy (God) created all of the pleasures. Hell, despite its great efforts, has failed to produce one. Thus, if pleasures come from God, and Hell strives to do everything opposite from how it is done in Heaven, then Screwtape is masochistic by nature. As he is separated from God, he necessarily must refuse all truly good and enjoyable things.
In addition to this, Mclean portrays Screwtape as actually harboring affection for his nephew. This cannot be so. Despite the fact that Screwtape signs all but the last of his letters, “Your Affectionate Uncle, Screwtape,” given Screwtape’s aversion to love he could not possibly feel real affection. His closing greetings, therefore, must be facetious. Lewis warns us in his preamble that it must be remembered that Screwtape is a liar, and not even statements supporting his side can be considered true. A more likely reason for his signature is that Screwtape seeks to mask the fact that he is using his nephew to further his own career. He is only, after all, merely the Undersecretary, not the president or chairmen or director, etc. Though this might be just my take on the character, I was always of the opinion that Screwtape eternally fights an inferiority complex. Surely he has something to gain for himself. Not to mention, he is entirely willing to eat his nephew in the event of Wormwood’s failure. Affection is not quite the right word, to say the least.
I supposed I always thought of Screwtape more as a John Malcovich character: sly, dark, repulsive but strangely attractive, and constantly giving you the feeling that he harbors hidden motives.
I saw on Wikipedia just now that rights to the book were purchased by Walden Media in 2006 in hopes of adapting it into a film. People should really contact me when they do these things. J