A splash of satire turns something wicked into something good, and we don’t just mean making Satan “Our Father Below” and God “The Enemy.” The Screwtape Letters in its theatrical rendition turned a philosophical novel into an entertaining and humorous stage performance, all centered around a leading demon and his sidekick.
Monologues are hard to pull off, especially when it comes to keeping an audience entertained by a single actor’s voice for almost two hours straight. Brent Harris pulled off the feat with his portrayal of the didactic Screwtape, a demon working for “Our Father Below” in this C.S. Lewis satire.
The entire play, excluding the very first scene, takes place in Screwtape’s office in Hell. The wicked soul is exchanging letters with his nephew, Wormwood, who is playing tempter to a human on Earth. Screwtape is giving Wormwood insight into the human psyche and advice on how to corrupt and turn him against “The Enemy,” God. Screwtape’s letters are being copied by a demon scribe, Toadpipe, who is the only other character on stage for the entire play and who does not speak.
The play succeeds because of Lewis’ deep understanding of humanity. His morally inverted universe mixes humor and reflection. The character of Screwtape keeps the intrigue going with his authoritative presence, witty lines, and exploration of human vices. “I’m agnostic and don’t follow any one religion, but a character like Screwtape, especially when explaining these raw and very real characteristics of humanity, can relate to each one of us,” says Harris, who has played other roles like Scar in the national tour of The Lion King and Lucifer in Dr. Faustus. Toadpipe, played by Marissa Molnar, adds perspective to Screwtape’s power, serves to demonstrate some of Screwtape’s examples in his teachings, and also adds extra movement on stage to keep the eye entertained.
Director Max McLean explained after the show why he wanted the theatrical representation of the C.S. Lewis novel to be a monologue. “There have been other takes on The Screwtape Letters that have cast roles for Wormwood and his Patient and have followed that story. I wanted to show what C.S. Lewis really focuses on, which is what is inside Screwtape’s mind,” says McLean.
The performance travels across the U.S. and will be headed to Europe next year. It’s put on by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts, a non-profit organization whose mission is to produce theater from a Christian worldview to engage a diverse audience. The Fellowship’s next play will be another C.S. Lewis work, The Great Divorce.