Since Paradise Lost, the saying "the devil has all the best lines" has applied to great literature but is demonstrated nowhere more clearly than in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, in which the devil—or at least a devil—speaks every snarling word. For several years, Max McLean has been touring the country with an adaptation of Lewis' seminal novella he co-wrote with Jeffrey Fiske signing off numerous performances as Your Affectionate Uncle Screwtape. This is his third time to bring it to Dallas since April of 2011, and it has two more performances this weekend at the Majestic Theatre in downtown Dallas.
As one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, Lewis spent a great deal of his career capturing the evangelical imagination with fantasy stories of ice queens and powerful lions. The Screwtape Letters contemplates a correspondence between Screwtape, an under-secretary in the Devil's "Lowerarchy" and his nephew Wormwood, who recently graduated from Tempter's College.
From the sole perspective of Screwtape, the play chronicles Wormwood's struggle to lure "the patient" away from God—"the enemy." McLean as Screwtape delves into a maniacal demeanor as he doles out advice about the safest roads to hell. He dictates these letters to the ever-silent Toadpipe, who also stands into recreate Screwtape's storied past.
While McLean makes a spine-tingling devil, he gives into the temptation to pander to the Bible Belt revelatory chuckles. When he brings up the pleasures that are by nature "The Enemy's" territory, but he advises Wormwood to use timing in his favor. The ironic lilt with which McLean discusses lust and gluttony imply a prior knowledge of which lines earn laughs.
As Wormwood struggles with "the patient" and Screwtape reveals doubts about "Our Father Below," McLean comes into his own. He loses his grip with a feverish chagrin.
The dialogue that unfolds in the script's lines taken straight from Lewis' pages is insightful and convicting on many levels, but the show occasionally panders to an evangelical crowd adding cliché touches like fast food jokes and outdated pop songs (an especially obnoxious example being a dance to Madonna's "Material Girl").
As a seminal work by Lewis turned into a compelling theatrical production, The Screwtape Letters is not to be missed—even if you find yourself groaning among the chuckles.