C.S. Lewis’ ‘Screwtape’ comes to Paramount
By Randall G. Mielke For Sun-Times Media May 10, 2012 4:22PM
“The Screwtape Letters” will be at the Paramount in Aurora on May 19. | Photo by Gerry Goodstein
‘The Screwtape Letters’
♦ 4 and 8 p.m., May 19
♦ Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
♦ Tickets, $29-$89
♦ (630) 896-6666
Updated: May 10, 2012 4:22PM
Actor Max McLean believes that if you practice your craft to perfection, magical moments will prevail.
“The world has gotten so fast and filled with distractions,” said McLean, who has had such diverse roles as Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Peachum in “The Threepenny Opera,” Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown“ and Argan in “The Imaginary Invalid.”
“In the theater, people are in a dark room for two hours. If you tell the story well enough, they will follow you anywhere. That’s the magic of theater. It is hard to do, but when you accomplish it, there is not a better feeling in the world.”
McLean is currently starring in, and is the co-creator of, “The Screwtape Letters,” an theatrical production based on the classic novel by C.S. Lewis. “The Screwtape Letters” will be presented on May 19 at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
“It is a faithful adaptation of the C.S. Lewis novel,” McLean said. “It is spiritual warfare from the demon’s point of view. It has great literary characters and it has great reverse psychology.”
“The Screwtape Letters” creates a topsy-turvy, morally-inverted universe set in an office in hell, where God is called the “Enemy” and the devil is referred to as “Our Father below.” The play follows His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, Satan’s top psychiatrist, played by McLean, and his creature-demon secretary Toadpipe, as they train an apprentice demon on the fine art of seducing an unsuspecting human “patient” down the “soft, gentle path to hell.”
“The Screwtape Letters” is one of Lewis’ most popular works. The book’s insight into human nature and the humorous, self-recognition that readers often identify with made it a success when the novel was first published in 1942. The play was adapted and directed by Jeff Fiske and Max McLean.
“I co-created it,” said McLean of the two-person play that he describes as a black comedy. “I had read the book, but I did not see it as theatrical literature.
“My writing partner, Jeff Fiske, obtained the rights in 2005 and work-shopped it in ‘06. We had a major production in late 2007, then six months at the Mercury Theatre in Chicago in 2008. We went back to the drawing board with a new set and new sound in 2010.”
“The Screwtape Letters” had a successful nine-month run off-Broadway at The Westside Theatre in New York City in 2010. McLean originated the role of Screwtape in New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C. and in the national tour.
“I think the foundation of the Screwtape character is the villain Iago in Shakespeare’s ‘Othello,’” said McLean about influences he had in creating the character. But McLean also feels that Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 film “Silence of the Lambs” influenced him.
“I sometimes steal that Anthony Hopkins voice,” McLean said. “Hannibal Lecter loved the fine things in life and he covered up the evil in the root of his soul. Evil needs a place to hide.”
From wherever he draws his inspiration, McLean finds the whole theatrical experience very satisfying.
“As an actor, I use my voice, my body and my mind to illuminate,” he said. “Our job in the theater is to magnify. You pick the right material that gets you going; then you write and produce it and get it up on its feet. That is the enjoyment.”