"The Screwtape Letters," the smart, provocative and wickedly funny theatrical adaptation of the C.S. Lewis novel about spiritual warfare from a demon's point of view, will be presented for two performances only at the Center for the Arts, University at Buffalo, on Saturday, April 14, at 4 and 8 p.m.
The National Tour of "The Screwtape Letters" kicked off after a hit nine-month run at the Westside Theatre in New York where it played 309 performances. Prior to that, the Chicago Tribune described "The Screwtape Letters" as the "most successful show in the history of Chicago's Mercury Theatre" (where it ran for six months). It was also a hit at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., where it played for 10 sold-out weeks.
"The Screwtape Letters" creates a topsy-turvy, morally inverted universe set in an eerily stylish 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 award-winning actor Max McLean, and his creature-demon secretary Toadpipe, as they train an apprentice demon, Wormwood, on the fine art of seducing an unsuspecting human "patient" down the "soft, gentle path to hell."
Along with "The Chronicles of Narnia" (including "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe"), "The Great Divorce" and "Mere Christianity," "The Screwtape Letters" is one of Lewis' most popular and influential works. The book's piercing insight into human nature and the lucid and humorous way Lewis makes his readers squirm in self recognition made it an immediate success. When first published in 1942, it brought worldwide fame to this little-known Oxford don - including the cover of Time Magazine.
The idea for "Screwtape" first came to Lewis after listening to Hitler's Reichstag Speech on July 19, 1940, while it was simultaneously translated on BBC Radio. Lewis wrote, "I don't know if I'm weaker than other people, but it is a positive revelation to me how while the speech lasts it is impossible not to waver just a little. ... Statements which I know to be untrue all but convince me ... if only the man says them unflinchingly."
Lewis dedicated it to his close friend J. R. R. Tolkien who had expressed to Lewis that delving too deeply into the craft of evil would have consequences. Lewis admitted as much when he wrote "Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment ... though it was easy to twist one's mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded."
"The Screwtape Letters" is produced by New York City-based Fellowship for the Performing Arts. McLean serves as artistic director. Executive producer and general manager is Ken Denison of Aruba Productions. Scenic design is by Cameron Anderson; costumes by Michael Bevins; lighting design by Jesse Klug; and original music and sound design by John Gromada.
The performance schedule for "The Screwtape Letters" is Saturday, April 14, at 4 and 8 p.m. Tickets range from $29 to $59. There are a limited number of premium seats available for $89. For groups of 10 or more (including student groups), call 1-866-476-8707.