Actor brings C. S. Lewis demon to life on stage
Randall Murphree
Randall Murphree
AFA Journal editor

September 2011 – Screwtape paces restlessly back and forth across the stage, rumbling, ranting and raging against the forces of good and resolved to capture the soul of the man he’s been assigned to tempt into sin, and thus into eternal hell. As a chief demon of the devil himself, Screwtape is the creation of C.S. Lewis, one of the 20th Century’s premiere Christian apologists.

In his 1941 novella The Screwtape Letters, Lewis created what acclaimed actor Max McLean believes to be one of the great literary characters of the century. This diabolical Screwtape is brought to life on stage by McLean, himself a Christian who sees the arts as a tenuous thread that might be the medium by which a Christian worldview finds respect in the broader field of the arts.

The devil in the arts
The devil has never been a stranger to fiction, stage or screen. boasts 40 films about the devil. Reigning cultural trends seem always to have harbored a fascination with the devil, but more often than not, the culture at large has responded to him as fanciful and fictional, or even as a fun caricature.

Lewis’ creative defense of the Christian faith has its moments of comic relief. However, the impact of the drama, written for stage by McLean and Jeffrey Fiske, is anything but humorous.

“This is one of the best examples of reverse psychology in literature, in terms of getting into your mind through the back door,” McLean told AFA Journal. McLean may be best known for his audio recordings of the Scriptures, but his stage presence is riveting. His video presentation of the Gospel of Mark and trailers for Screwtape can be viewed on YouTube. 

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis used the device of a series of 31 letters that Screwtape writes to a younger demon, instructing him in the art of tempting humans into sin. McLean said the drama grapples with a universal truth that leads even atheists and agnostics to think in new ways about the tension between good and evil. 

“It’s what Paul said about the suppression of truth,” he said. “You know evil exists, you know there are powers and principalities at work, but you suppress it. Even Christians do so.”

Screwtape’s success
In its 2011 tour, McLean’s stage interpretation of Screwtape has garnered rave reviews from secular critics across the nation. It opened a nine-month run at New York’s Westside Theatre in April 2010 and ended in January 2011 after 309 performances. It has toured the country this year, with runs in Atlanta, Dallas, Cincinnati, Seattle and other cities.

Birmingham, Nashville and Tampa are on the schedule this fall. (See below.) Unfortunately, a video of McLean’s stellar Screwtape performance is not available. 

In 1993, McLean founded the non-profit Fellowship for the Performing Arts to help bridge the gap between Christian arts and the secular world.

“I noticed there was a lot of antagonism between the church and the artistic community because the church was concerned about the direction the artistic community was going,” he said. “We needed an alternative to presenting art at the highest levels from a Christian worldview.”

That guiding principle became the mission statement of FPA: “… presenting Christian worldview theater that engages the culture.”

McLean’s own work demonstrates that it can be done. For his stage presentation of the Gospel of Mark, he earned the Jeff Award, an annual honor recognizing excellence in Chicago theater. Voters for the award see more than 250 productions. It was a stunning – and unexpected – award, as McLean’s show initially met resistance for consideration because of its Christian content. 

McLean said that, with Screwtape, Lewis puts a magnifying glass to the human soul and makes people think, “Wow, there’s some truth here that I need to look at and respond to.” With Lewis’ unique story and McLean’s bold delivery, it’s next to impossible for audiences not to respond.  undefined\

Tickets to The Screwtape Letters or to support FPA

Free McLean MP3 downloads The Bible, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Luther’s Here I Stand and more)

McLean’s Gospel of Mark and trailers of McLean’s Screwtape