I was delighted to be invited to see “The Screwtape Letters” at the Barclay Theater with OCWeekly theater critic Joel Beers, who recently interviewed Max McLean, the co-director who stars in the play and also conceived of the production. McLean has excellent elocution but his words were tinny even in the Barclay’s lavish sound system on the opening weekend.
The adaptation of CS Lewis book is set in a stylized office of a top lieutenant of the devil. The set is impressive with a large wall made entirely of carefully stacked bones and skulls (fake I hope). The story is told through a series of 31 letters between Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood, who is attempting to lure a single person (The Patient) to turn his soul over to The Dark One. Screwtape dictates each letter to his minion Toadpipe, who is played by one of three acrobatic and limber females dressed in a colorful leotard and mask.
CS Lewis attempted to popularize Christian morality through rational argument. When that failed to produce the desired results he started writing his rational Christianity into novels, such as the “Chronicles of Narnia” series. Screwtape was written in response to Hitler’s Reichstag speech in 1940. Much of the anti-morality condoned by Screwtape makes great diabolical sense. “Turn up the noise!!”, he says to drowned out the any good thoughts. But some are impossible, you must, above all else be humble, but not recognize the value once achieved. And The Patients final salvation only comes when he perishes from a bullet wound. The message seems to be that you can achieve your highest values, as long as you’re dead. I guess that’s why they call it a sacrifice.
Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-4646.Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. $29-$59. www.screwtapeonstage.com.