In ‘Screwtape Letters,’ the devil’s voice on God
In C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters,” Max McLean portrays Screwtape, a demon psychiatrist fighting spiritual warfare to win souls for Satan.
“The major objective theatrically is to get the audience to like him – think gosh, he’s smart, makes sense and is good at his job,” McLean said. “There’s a ring of truth, but looking at it from his own diabolical perspective.”
McLean originated the role of Screwtape and is the producing artistic director for Fellowship for the Performing Arts, which puts on the show that has been performed in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Now on its third national tour, “The Screwtape Letters” will be at the Durham Performing Arts Center for two performances on Saturday.
McLean was approached to be Screwtape for what he describes as a “reverse devotional” of letters between Screwtape and another demon. Lewis’ idea for the book came after listening to Hitler’s 1940 Reichstag speech.
Lewis spends more time on the other side of the material curtain than other faith writers, McLean said. “He’s looking at things from a very supernatural way, and uses cultural commentary from his day.”
“The Screwtape Letters” is a funny piece, McLean said, not because of jokes but because audiences see themselves. “Most of the laughs are uncomfortable,” he said.
McLean has a deep, authoritative yet friendly voice. The production is a very complex, dense piece with a particular vocal choreography, he said. He has to be on his game – confident and relaxed, but not too relaxed, he said.
McLean’s faith is the reason he does “The Screwtape Letters,” he said. Audiences see a morally inverted universe in order to show “the brightness of living your life for God,” he said. “The more dark and dangerous you’re making it, the more light you’re shedding.”
McLean noted that Lewis said with every choice, an essential part of us changes a little bit toward a heavenly or hellish creature. McLean’s next production will be another Lewis work, the theological fantasy “The Great Divorce.”
“Both of these shows are reminding me of the value and importance of the moment to moment choices we make,” McLean said. When people consider the idea of spiritual warfare, they might think of unusual events, power encountering demons, exorcisms and such, he said.
But, as Lewis says in his work, McLean said, “real warfare happens every time there’s a decision to be loving over selfish or selfish over loving, proud versus humble, dutiful or slothful. Those are where spiritual warfare grabs you – dozens of daily decisions.”
WHAT: “The Screwtape Letters”
WHEN: 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jan. 19
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham
TICKETS: www.screwtapeonstage.com or DPAC box office