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'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2015
Universal:
Scientists: That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
Evangelization: Contribution of women: That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More U.S.

Defend Marriage! Sign the Pledge in Solidarity for Marriage, Join the March

Image of Did you read that these defenders of marriage faced tear gas and clubs from the riot police of the French Socialist regime? They sang La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem, and called for the resignation of the President. Most US news sources did not even report on the Paris March. It was led by a growing movement in France called La Manif  Similar marches have occurred in Taiwan and around the world.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

One of the leaders I have the privilege of calling my friend is a great evangelical Christian and constitutional lawyer named Mat Staver. Mat is the Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Liberty Counsel Action.  We have joined together on many fronts, ... continue reading


War on Terrorism: How Americans really feel about Islamic terrorism Watch

Image of Most American's carry a negative outlook on the War on Terrorism.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

American's outlook for the War on Terror and Muslims continues to decline. The most recent Rasmussen Report discovered that only a lamentable 29 percent of likely U.S. voters "believe the United States and its allies are winning the War on Terror. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


Pope accepts resignation of Bishop Robert Finn, years after conviction due to his failure to report abuse Watch

Image of Put on two years' probation, Bishop Finn did not spend time in jail or pay a fine, according to the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn. The bishop had remained on his post for years after becoming the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic official convicted in connection with the church's long-running sex abuse scandal. Leading the ... continue reading


SHOCKING: Armed National Guard troop carries out operations in U.S. children's playground (VIDEO) Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Footage showing armed National Guard troops doing exercises was sent to Infowars, Sunday morning. The concerned listener documented the scenario, that took place near a children's playground in Staunton, Virginia, highlighting the presence of arms in the public space. ... continue reading


Lake Michigan Coast Guard discovers historical mystery in shallow waters Watch

Image of Ice covered shallow waters expose long lost artifacts.

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Climate change has drawn humanity with a lot of uncovered mysteries. Just recently, a lot of amusing sights were seen in Lake Michigan when an ice cap near the shoreline melted. Aside from revealing the clear waters, it has also unleashed different objects, which were ... continue reading


High school faces First Amendment issues with Muslim Student Association's controversial event Watch

Image of A student-sponsored event asking all female students to participate in wearing a hijab was cancelled after parents were outraged.

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The principal of Mason High School in Mason, Ohio has already cancelled the "Covered Girl Challenge." Earlier last week, parents received an email from the school encouraging female students to wear a hijab, or the Islamic head covering, on the same day. A couple days ... continue reading


Good Samaritan who fed homeless for 10 years charged with unbelievable $2,000 fine Watch

Image of

By Hannah Raissa Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Founder of the nonprofit mobile food truck Chow Train, Joan Cheever, was fined by the San Antonio, Texas police for about $2,000 due to the lack of permit for the trucks she is using to transport food. Cheever argues she has the right to do her charitable activity ... continue reading


Tragic final hours of Abraham Lincoln recounted on anniversary of his assassination Watch

Image of Abraham Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth's final words were reportedly

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Long troubled by depression, 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln awoke on the last day of his life, April 14, 1865 in an uncommonly good mood. Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd decided to attend the hit farce comedy "Our American Cousin," which was playing at ... continue reading


Courage in the Storm: Three Cheers for Wyoming Catholic College! Watch

Image of I do not personally know President Kevin Roberts of Wyoming Catholic. I have never even visited Wyoming Catholic College. However, the action of the President inspires me. The College is now on my radar screen, so to speak. I will be praying for them and paying close attention to their future. I ask my readers to do the same. - Deacon Keith Fournier

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Since the objective of a Catholic University is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture, every Catholic University, as Catholic, must have the following essential ... continue reading


Abercrombie and Fitch employee reveals racial discrimination and sexual harassment at work Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Over the past ten years, Abercrombie and Fitch has received a number of discrimination lawsuits; they even paid $40 million in settlement back in 2006. Just recently, an unnamed employee went out in the open and gave full information about the constant racial ... 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, Acts 7:51--8:1
51 'You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 31:3-4, 6, 7, 8, 17, 21
3 You are my rock, my rampart; true to your name, ... Read More

Gospel, John 6:30-35
30 So they said, 'What sign will you yourself do, the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 21st, 2015 Image

St. Anselm
April 21: St. Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury and Confessor APRIL 21,A.D. ... 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