Lewis’ spirituality is examined in ‘Screwtape’ this weekend in San Jose

Author C.S. Lewis had a harrowing journey as he navigated his own faith throughout his lifetime. The Irish author, best known for his “Chronicles of Narnia” series of books, grew up in the Irish-Catholic faith, turned to atheism at 15, and returned to Christianity in his early 30’s. His own rediscovery of faith made him known as a “Christian apologist,” which is the concept of explaining Christianity in a rational manner, and which led him to write a book entitled “The Screwtape Letters.”

Actor and voice-over narrator Max McLean read the book many years ago but never envisioned it to be considered dramatic literature. Like many theatre projects, it was sent to McLean a few years back by a professor at New Jersey’s Drew University as a possibility for him to perform. And not long after the development of the piece, it was fully funded and on its way to a national tour.

“I started writing the script and it became a small development production. We knew we had a project then,” said McLean. “Shortly after, we knew we had a lot of work to do, and we came back with a really significant upgrade. It ran for six months in Chicago, sold out in Washington, D.C. and New York City.”

McLean’s piece, presented by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts, whose mission is to produce theatre from a Christian worldview that engages a diverse audience, makes its way to San Jose this Saturday, Sept. 22nd. The production will take place at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts.

The show, which has been touring nationally since January of 2011, is the story of Screwtape (McLean), who holds an administrator position in the “Lowerarchy” of Hell. There, he advises demon apprentice Toadpipe (Tamala Bakkensen), in the form of 31 letters, about ways to undermine faith.

McLean’s fascination with the piece has

Screwtape (Max McLean) does his best to teach the perverse side of humanity in “The Screwtape Letters,” this Saturday in downtown San Jose. (Photo by Gerry Goodstein)

everything to do with the journey of his own faith.

“I would say that it probably began with my own spirituality, and then it became a good theatre project,” said McLean. “What interested me is the thought of tackling a very profound spiritual subject and seeing if we could make a transition from the page to the stage.”

What made that process so compelling for McLean was the engaging nature of Screwtape himself. In the spirit of the wildly popular Shakespearean villains who are a joy for any actor to portray, McLean describes Screwtape as “Iago on steroids.” When it comes to the ability for McLean to play such a rich character, he considers it a fortunate part of the trade.

“It’s so much fun to play someone that’s so much smarter than you are, uses language so much better than you do, and someone that is really, really good at his job,” said McLean.”He is the highest person in profession, and that is so much fun because it attracts audiences.

“Screwtape is a high-ranking demon but people like him. What is so alluring about this prideful person is that he is the smartest guy in room. In our perverse moral universe, he is like a rock star.”

The show’s appeal is that it aims to be a solid theatre piece, and not necessarily an opportunity to preach. Lewis’ novel does not just cater to one crowd specifically, but truly appeals to the pragmatist in anyone interested in exploring spirituality further.

“I think Lewis speaks to the spiritual crowd very strongly, but I also think his appeal is to thoughtful people on the fence,” said McLean. “Lewis is able to grab the imagination in a way that very few authors do, and seems to have a real window in this other world.

“He pulls back the curtain on the story in a way where people say, ‘Yeah, that definitely could be true.’”

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

New York City’s Fellowship for the Performing Arts presents “The Screwtape Letters”
Based on the novel by C.S. Lewis
Adapted for the stage by Max McLean
Saturday, Sept. 22nd
The San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
255 Almaden Boulevard, San Jose, CA 95113
Two shows only – 4 pm and 8 pm
Tickets range from $25 – $89
For tickets, call (408) 792-4111 or visit the official website.

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