The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis Comes to the Stage in Norfolk, Virginia
opening up my universe once again. It has made me revisit the admonition from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Ephesus,
"For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12). Evil is not only real, it is deceptive and opportunistic. It does not retreat unless it is exposed and opposed.
I returned to this C.S. Lewis masterpiece during the forty days of Lent this year. One of my daughters, Maryellen, works for the Virginia Arts festival, a non-profit in Norfolk, Virginia. Their mission "is to bring world-class performing arts to our citizens and visitors, impact the lives of students through outstanding educational programs, commission new works of national and international significance, and make a tangible difference in Hampton Roads through regional partnerships and positive economic impact through the generation of cultural tourism."
My daughter Maryellen knew of my love for CS Lewis and thought I would be interested to know that the Virginia Arts festival was co-sponsoring the critically acclaimed stage adaptation of the Screwtape Letters between May 1 and May 6, 2012. She was correct. My wife and I will attend on opening night. I will bring our readers a review. She also thought I would be interested in interviewing the Award winning Actor Max McLean who plays Screwtape in the theatrical production. She was correct again.
Along with Jeff Fiske, Max McLean is responsible for adapting this book for the Stage. The two work together in the "Fellowship for the Performing Arts". Max plays Screwtape. Max told me that a Theatre professor from Drew University once told him in a letter that he would "make a good Screwtape."
Max had read Lewis' book when he was in his twenties and it had a profound effect on him. He was intrigued by the Professors comment, wondering what he saw in him which made him make that assessment. It also helped lead him to a decision, to recast the book for the theatre. However, he had a hard time seeing how it could be translated from the page to the stage.
In 2006, Max obtained the rights from the Lewis estate to do a developmental production. He acknowledges that his first effort had problems "both theatrically and dramaturgically". However, that attempt, and the interest it generated, sent these artists back to the writing table.
Max told me he was convinced that this CS Lewis masterpiece was "so brilliant and so consistent" in presenting a "morally inverted universe" that he knew it had to performed onstage. He was also convinced that the character Lewis created, Screwtape, was one of the great literary creations of the twentieth century. He knew that if they "could find this character theatrically it would be something wonderful."
Max McLean and I had a delightful discussion. It is clear in speaking with him that he is a true artist. He is an evangelical Christian. However, he knows the absolute necessity of pursuing excellence in all things. He told me that the play is an "entertaining, provocative and stimulating experience" intended not just for Christians, but for all men and women. Clearly his art is intended to cast a wide net, and properly so.
Max wants the excellence of the production to be paramount because, in his words, "that's where the magic of theatre begins". He emphasized his conviction that Christians involved in the arts set the "entertainment bar high". As for this production he added "once we are there, we are able to just let Lewis speak his profound message."
His commitment to excellence as an actor inspired me. It also reminded me of Blessed John Paul II's wonderful 1999 "Letter to Artists". John Paul II was an actor, a playwright, a poet and an artist. He understood and wrote of the connection between beauty and the Christian vocation to manifest the presence of the living God in the world which He still loves. I told Max that in that "Letter to Artists" John Paul II wrote of the invitation given by the Lord, the Divine Artist, to all artists to create "epiphanies of beauty." He had heard of the letter but had not yet read it.
John Paul II encouraged the flourishing of all the arts in a great renewal of humanity for our age. Rather than withdraw from the arts, he encouraged Christian artists to lead the way to their renewal and recovery. He addressed that letter "To all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new "epiphanies" of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these gifts to the world." After we ended our conversation, I sent Max a copy of the "Letter to Artists".
In a brief time on the phone I met a gifted man, a Christian, who is living the vocation of an artist. He seeks to live his faith in the midst of the world by honing his gifts to excellence in order to give them away to others. I will revisit our conversation in my next article, after viewing the play. I can't wait for the curtain to rise on the Wells Theatre stage in Norfolk, Virginia. I will be back to our readers with a review. Stay tuned.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Max McLean, Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis, Wells Theatre, Virginia Arts festival, Norfolk, Virginia, Deacon Keith Fournier
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