The devil is putting on a show at Parker Playhouse.
A theatrical adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” will appear Friday and Saturday at the Fort Lauderdale theater. The comedic story about spiritual warfare from a demon’s point of view was reworked for the stage by Drew University professor Jeffrey Fiske and actor/performance artist Max McLean.
“Jeffrey is the one who bought this project to me,” recalls McLean, who produced and directed the play. “That was in 2005. In 2006, we did our first production in New York. In 2007, we did a second [expanded] production that ran for nine months off-Broadway.”
It was a hit, selling out houses and garnering critical acclaim, with McLean in the lead role of Screwtape, who with his minion Toadpipe trains an apprentice demon named Wormwood on how to ruin the life and damn the soul of a human on Earth. The comedy creates an inverted universe of morals, where God is referred to as the “Enemy” and Satan is called “Our Father Below.” On the tour coming to South Florida, Brent Harris (“The Lion King,” “Amadeus”) takes over the titular role.
“It goes back to Lewis,” McLean says. “Lewis just challenges peoples’ worldview. And ‘Screwtape’ is the best case of reverse psychology in all of literature. Up is down. Good is bad.”
The New Jersey resident says he was an adult convert to Christianity, and found much of the literature “way over my head. But I came across ‘Screwtape,’ and I thought, ‘I know this guy.’ But I did not see it as theatrical literature.”
Later, he realized the language in Lewis’ work was poetic, and the author “had a constellation of ideas you just don’t see anywhere else.”
“Lewis did not want Christ to be true,” he adds. “Because if it wasn’t true then, he thought, ‘I can be my own master.’ He began to examine the evidence of God. What began to make sense was the world is a beautiful place and a terrifying place. That led him to look at dualism. There is a good force and a bad force, and they are fighting each other. Evil needs good to corrupt. He concluded that good is primary and evil is dependent. So philosophically, there are two powers. So the Devil is very important to Christianity.”
But the dramatist in McLean admits: “This can be flat and boring if we don’t know what [Christianity] is protecting us from.”
McLean, a Presbyterian, also narrates the Bible at ListenersBible.com and plans to stage other C.S. Lewis works through his New York-based Fellowship for the Performing Arts ministry. “It’s a way to [combine] my faith with my work. And Lewis is intelligent enough and provocative enough to do that.”
“The Screwtape Letters” will be staged Friday and Saturday, April 11-12, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 4 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets cost from $29 to $49 ($20 for students with ID). Call 954-462-0222 or go to ScrewtapeOnStage.com.