Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deacon Keith Fournier

5/1/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Max Mclean's commitment to excellence as an actor inspired me

Max McLean 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." The play comes to the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia on May 1, 2012.

Max McLean as Screwtape

Max McLean as Screwtape

Highlights

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

5/1/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Max McLean, Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis, Wells Theatre, Virginia Arts festival, Norfolk, Virginia, Deacon Keith Fournier


NORFOLK,VA. (Catholic Online) - I was  a teenager when I first read "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis. Lost in the fog of "hippiedom" and searching for deeper meaning in my life, I decided to hitchhike across the country in an ongoing quest for truth. 

The summer before I embarked on that life changing pilgrimage, I moved into a rental house on Newburyport, Plum Island, Massachusetts. The house was owned by a friend's father who was a College Professor. When he decided to take a summer sabbatical in Europe, he allowed his son to rent the home for the summer and choose two friends to occupy it with him. I was one of those friends.

We drew straws to determine who got which of the three bedrooms. I ended up with the College professor's room, complete with a library filled with books by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and George McDonald. Decades later, I look back and believe that those straws were not accidentally arranged. That became my summer of C.S. Lewis. It also laid the groundwork for my later return home to the faith and the Church of my childhood.

First, I read his novel, "Till We Have Faces". Then I read, "The Chronicles of Narnia" followed by the "science fiction" trilogy - "Out of the Silent Planet", "Peralandra" and "That Hideous Strength". Next, I read his classic apologetic books, "Mere Christianity" and "The Great Divorce". Finally, I read "The Screwtape Letters". I found that last little book of letters between a demon/instructor and his nephew/student both amusing and challenging. Its depiction of evil as personal, strategic and adversarial had been my own experience, even in my youth.

The book was first published in 1942. I remember being drawn to it because it was dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien, whose works of fantasy had already captured my fertile imagination. I was intrigued by Lewis' insight in the Preface, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight".

Four decades later, I am once again captured by the brilliance of this series of letters between two demons. Only the "me" reading the book is closing in on 60 years old. The letters have been revealed as a masterful work on the moral life. As a PhD student in Moral theology currently writing my dissertation, I now see this treasure with older eyes, deeply set in the wrinkles earned by the vicissitudes of life. I have also acquired reading lenses which help me see more clearly in so many ways. Age is the best tutor. 

The book peels back the layers of life, revealing the reality of the unseen or spiritual world. It exposes a morally upside down universe where the Evil One, the "Father Below",  and his minions, strategically seek out the fissures in our fractured freedom in order to lead us into the slavery of Hell. That Hell, which is separation from the God who is Love, is aptly called in the book, the "kingdom of noise". It is devoid of all that is beautiful and good and true.

The road to separation from Love follows along the path of our wrongful exercise of human freedom. The correspondence between these two demons exposes both the meaning and the means of the Moral life. Our choices not only change the world around us, they change us. We become what we choose. Because our capacity to choose the good has been fractured by sin, our choices have become a field of battle.

On that field, temptations raise their weapons against us, seeking out our most vulnerable areas. It is there where demons find their open door, piggybacking on our pride and self love in its myriad of disguises, riding high on our disordered appetites. It is also there where lies lure us into the darkness where the "father below" works his evil and corrupting ways. 

The letters between Screwtape, the older demon, contain allegedly "affectionate" instructions to his nephew/student "Wormwood". They are intended, or so it seems, to assist the student in tempting an unnamed man, a sort of "everyperson", who is  called the "patient", away from the path of faith, love and virtue. However, there is no true affection in these letters, in spite of their ending salutations. That is because there is no love in Hell.

The letters reveal the nature of all counterfeit "affection" as the relationship between student and teacher devolves into denigration, manipulation and abuse. The affection of Screwtape is in reality the cover for a relationship of use with the ultimate aim of consuming Wormwood in its hungry malice.  

The book can be read on many levels, unfolding its teaching like layers of an onion. Forty years after I first read it in Newburyport, Massachusetts, it is 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.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2014
Christmas, hope for humanity:
That the birth of the Redeemer may bring peace and hope to all people of good will.
Parents: That parents may be true evangelizers, passing on to their children the precious gift of faith.



Comments


More U.S.

A journey to the land of the free: Part One -- Beaten and scared young children flee violence and turn to the United States for hope Watch

Image of Many young immigrants have no more fight in them when they decide to cross the border, they're only trying to survive.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Blistered feet and filthy, blood-stained skin is the forlorn image of immigrants preparing to cross the border. With hopeful hearts and anxious minds, immigrants, of all ages, assemble to make the leap into their promise land. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Most ... continue reading


Pope Francis, the real architect behind the U.S.-Cuban thaw Watch

Image of With personal appeals, letters, and hosted meetings, the Vatican and Pope Francis can accurately be called the masterminds behind the recent thaw between the U.S. and Cuba.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba took the world by surprise, but perhaps one man was not as shocked as the rest. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A senior official with the White House reported that Pope Francis made personal appeals to both President ... continue reading


Looking forward to your tax refund this year? Don't hold your breath. The IRS suffers after extreme budget cuts. Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Heavily stricken with budget cuts and new tax-related laws, the IRS considers implementing its own temporary shutdown. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Congress has recently cut the IRS budget by $346 million. The IRS' budget has been cut a total of $1 billion since ... continue reading


OBAMACARE DOES NOT WORK! Vermont gives up free healthcare plan as too expensive Watch

Image of Vermont's governor announced that a planned universal healthcare program for the state has been cancelled because the massive tax hikes would devastate the state's economy.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Peter Shumlin, the governor of Vermont, announced that he was canceling his longtime dream to create a single-payer health care system for his state. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The announcement came on December 17, citing problems with paying for the Green ... continue reading


The disgusting new fact of American life: More than 46 million Americans on food stamps for 37 straight month Watch

Image of Obama has been in office for about 70 months, and 37 of those months have seen the most amount of Americans on food stamps, ever!

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It is self-evident that President Obama continues to undermine the abilities of the lower class, enforcing government-reliance on those who can least afford it. The number of Americans on food stamps under Obama has continued along its record breaking path, as, ... continue reading


Faith in the United States' race relations hits a strikingly low point after no indictment verdicts Watch

Image of 57 percent of American's say race relations in the United States are bad, according to the latest NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Those are the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, a man who fought long and hard for a better today. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A land where discrimination no longer prevails is a reality that seems no ... continue reading


The Pope, the Pets, the Paparazzi and the Propaganda Media

Image of Pope Francis pets a dog

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The passing on of this complete fabrication, as well as the embellishment which accompanied it, were not simply a matter of the secular press failing to comprehend this Pope. In fact, religious news sources, both Catholic and Protestant, jumped in. This all ... continue reading


Why is he so upset? Because of the secret Republican time bomb in the government funding bill Watch

Image of The federal government has funding through the 2015 fiscal year, but Republicans will have many opportunities to fight the president's programs in that time.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Senate has approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill, aimed to fund nearly the whole of the federal government through the 2015 fiscal year, ending weeks of drama in Congress and relieving doubts that the government might be shut down again while Democrats and ... continue reading


You know about the 'Bishop of Bling' but do American clergy have the same problem too? Watch

Image of The Bishop of Bling was sacked after he spent $43 million renovating his home.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has called for "a Church which is poor and for the poor." However, not every member of the clergy may have read the memo. A number of high-ranking Church officials in the United States live in lavish homes, sometimes bordering on the scandalous. LOS ... continue reading


Water leak leads to discovery of 1795 time capsule - left by Paul Revere! Watch

Image of A worker holds the time capsule left by the revolutionaries.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Paul Revere, the fearless revolutionary who mounted his horse to declare that "The British are coming! The British are coming!" has left an enduring national legacy - in both deed and actions. Excitement is mounting with the discovery of a time capsule left by Revere ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Judges 13:2-7, 24-25
2 There was a man of Zorah of the tribe of Dan, ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 71:3-4, 5-6, 16-17
3 Be a sheltering rock for me, always accessible; you ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:5-25
5 In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 19th, 2014 Image

St. Nemesius
December 19: Martyr of Egypt. He was burned alive in Alexandria, Egypt, ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter