Sunday, June 2, 2013

Screwtape Letters

Two years ago, a small group that I was a part of in Holland, Michigan used a DVD called Mark’s Gospel, created by the Christian performer Max McLean, to lead us in our study of the Gospel of Mark. For each session, we listened as Max superbly narrated and acted out a chapter of the Gospel and then we discussed the chapter.  A few months later, I learned that Max McLean was coming to Grand Rapids, Michigan to perform in the play that he adapted from the famous book by C.S. Lewis: Screwtape Letters. I quickly bought two prime tickets for the performance and eagerly looked forward to the show. 
The performance was set for Saturday, June 23, 2012, but an unfortunate thing happened two days before that; my 30 year old son Peter was hit by a car as he was pushing a jogging stroller in Cincinnati. He was injured, though his young son was unhurt, and my wife and I quickly went to be with him and his family. Needless to say, it meant that we would not be attending the show! I gave the tickets to good friends of ours from the study in Holland and we did our best to help our son. Peter went through several weeks of healing and physical therapy; I am glad to report that he eventually recovered and is doing much better now - Praise the Lord. 
We later heard that our friends enjoyed the show and I began investigating more about Max and the tour schedule of the Screwtape Letters. I found out that the play would be visiting Indianapolis on June 1, 2013 and I quickly got tickets. Despite some bad weather predictions from the Weather Channel, we drove down yesterday and saw the play - but this time Max wasn’t in it. It was another actor named Brent Harris. You may have seen/heard him since he was the voice of Scar in Disney’s tour of The Lion King. He was excellent, though, oddly enough in an ironic sort of way, Brent admits to being an agnostic.(Max is a Christian)
Max is the founder and Artistic Director of the company called Fellowship for the Performing Arts, ( Here are some quotes from their website:
“THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS is a smart, provocative and wickedly funny theatrical adaptation of the C.S. Lewis novel about spiritual warfare from a demon’s point of view.
It was a hit in NYC where it played 309 performances at the Westside Theatre in 2010.  Prior to that it ran for six months in Chicago.  The Chicago Tribune described THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS as the "most successful show in the history of Chicago's Mercury Theatre." It, also, had two engagements at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. where it played for ten sold-out weeks. 
The national tour of THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS will play in over fifty major cities and performing arts venues throughout the United States.
The play, set in a eerily stylish office in hell, follows the clever scheming of Satan's chief psychiatrist, Screwtape, as he entices a human 'patient' toward damnation. In this topsy-turvy, morally inverted universe God is the “Enemy” and the Devil is “Our Father below.”  The stakes are high as human souls are hell's primary source of food.
As His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, award winning actor Brent Harris, creates a “master of the universe” character who mesmerizes the audience as he allures his unsuspecting 'patient' down the “soft, gentle path to Hell.” At his feet is Screwtape's able assistant, Toadpipe, (played by Marissa Molnar & Tamala Bakkensen) a grotesque creature demon, who transforms her elastic body into the paragons of vices and characters Screwtape requires to keep his patient away from the "Enemy."
Along with The Chronicles of Narnia (including The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe), The Great Divorce and Mere Christianity, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS is still one of Lewis’ most popular and influential works.  The book's success is due to its piercing insight into human nature and the lucid and humorous way Lewis makes his readers squirm in self recognition.  When first published in 1942 it brought immediate fame to this little-known Oxford don including the cover of Time Magazine.
Lewis dedicated the work to his close friend J. R. R. Tolkien who had expressed to Lewis that delving too deeply into the craft of evil would have consequences. Lewis admitted as much when he wrote: “Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment . . . though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The work 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.”
90 minutes of continuous dialogue enthralled us all. There was a simple but effective stage design and a welcome bit of sadistic relief from a second performer, Toadpipe. While having no speaking parts she was something of an assistant/butler. My wife and I were in the second row and we loved the performance. To our delight, Max McLean was there after the show with Brent and held a 20 minute question/answer period with the audience. You can see a short clip of people’s reaction to the play (with Max McLean) at:
In closing, I’m quite impressed with Max’s ministry, and encourage all of you to see the show and support them. There is an interesting tie in to my blog’s namesake. In addition to the fact that Max has recorded Martin Luther’s famous “Here I Stand” speech, the Fellowship for the Performing Arts has commissioned a playwright to go to Germany and write a first draft of a script based on the Life of Martin Luther and his wife Katherine Von Bora.
Which brings me back to Luther's time.

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