C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Screwtape Letters’ to premiere at Stephens Auditorium

C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Screwtape Letters’ premieres at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Stephens Auditorium for one night only. 

Melissa Garrett

From the author of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Great Divorce, Max McLean and Jeff Fiske’s adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” will present a morally-inverted and topsy-turvy universe to the Ames audience at 7:30 p.m. April 14 at Stephens Auditorium.  

In a 90-minute play about spiritual warfare from a hellish demon’s perspective, The Screwtape Letters follows the diabolical enticing of Screwtape, Satan’s right-hand man, who refers to God as the “Enemy” and the devil as “Our Father below.”

The audience watches as Screwtape, Satan’s top psychiatrist, and his demonic creature assistant Toadpipe educate an apprentice demon, Wormwood, on how to destroy the lives and damn the souls of humans on earth.

The inspiration for “The Screwtape Letters” came to Lewis during a time of war, despair and apparent mortality. Lewis was listening to the BBC Radio’s English translation of a speech Hitler was giving, according to McLean.

“Lewis, when he heard the speech, [was] so taken by the charisma of Hitler, the magnetism of Hitler to draw people in,” McLean said. “The things that he knew were not true, he believed, [because] of [Hitler’s] ability to persuade [people] for nefarious purposes.”

As the original Screwtape, McLean co-produced and co-adapted The “Screwtape Letters” with Fiske. He is also the artistic director for the Fellowship for Performing Arts, which makes spiritual theater for a secular audience, according to McLean. For him, Screwtape is one of the great literary creations of the 20th century.

“Screwtape is created in this morally inverted universe, where up is down, good is bad,” McLean said. “[Lewis] said it was the easiest thing he ever wrote [but] it was also the work that gave him the least amount of joy because you have to twist your mind into the diabolical attitude.”

Quoting Lewis, McLean said, “It became all dust and dirt and grit and itch, and every trace of beauty and freshness had to be excluded in order to get into the mind of Screwtape.”

To describe Screwtape’s evilness, McLean compares his likeness to cunning Iago from Shakespeare’s “Othello” as well as Hannibal Lecter from “Silence of the Lambs.”

“For an actor playing Screwtape it’s a lot of fun,” McLean said. “Screwtape is sort of Satan’s chief psychologist — he knows what strings to pull and knows when to pull them. He’s a master of the universe character, who is so full of himself, and as long as you don’t take that away from the theater it’s fun to be able to put on that garb on stage.”

McLean said “The Screwtape Letters” is a hunt story, where Screwtape is a predator and the patient in the play is the prey, which is everyone on earth. He believes Lewis modeled the patient after himself and his own battles with temptation.

“I think Lewis fel[t] that with modern secular education that most people are not aware of the supernatural world around them and [of] how many things are out there that are imposing themselves, influencing our thinking [and] our decision making,” McLean said.

For some people, [“The Screwtape Letters”] will open their eyes to themselves in a way that they perhaps were not aware of before, and I think for some people it could be a life changing experience.”

The Screwtape Letters prevails as one of Lewis’ most popular books that has been praised by critics and audiences worldwide.

Tickets for the premiere of “The Screwtape Letters” are available via Ticketmaster and can additionally be purchased between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Stephens Auditorium ticket office. Prices range among $40, $50 and $60.

For more information about the show, visit the Iowa State Center’s Web Page for The Screwtape Letters and the show’s website.