Saturday, June 15, 2013

REVIEW: FPA's "The Screwtape Letters" One Heck of a Good Show

Fellowship for the Performing Arts presented a limited engagement of THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, the "wickedly funny" theatrical adaptation of the C.S. Lewis novel about spiritual warfare from a demon’s point of view at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts this weekend.

Screwtape examines a letter.
It was a hit in NYC where it played 309 performances at the Westside Theatre in 2010. Prior to that it ran for six months in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune described THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS as the "most successful show in the history of Chicago's Mercury Theatre." It, also, had two engagements at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. where it played for ten sold-out weeks.

The national tour of THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS will play in over
fifty major cities and performing arts venues through-out the United States. It had three performances this past weekend at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts Newmark Theatre. It continues on elsewhere for he remainder of the tour.

About the Play

The play, set in a eerily stylish office in hell, follows the clever scheming of Satan's chief psychiatrist, Screwtape, as he entices a human 'patient' toward damnation. In this topsy-turvy, morally inverted universe God is the “Enemy” and the Devil is “Our Father below.” The stakes are high as human souls are hell's primary source of food.

The minion, Toadpipe.
As His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, award winning actor Brent Harris, creates a “master of the universe” character who mesmerizes the audience as he allures his unsuspecting 'patient' down the “soft, gentle path to Hell.” At his feet is Screwtape's able assistant, Toadpipe, (played alternately by Marissa Molnar and Tamala Bakkensen) a grotesque creature demon, who transforms her elastic body into the paragons of vices and characters Screwtape requires to keep his patient away from the "Enemy."

Max McLean, the show's creator,
in the role of Screwtape.
Along with The Chronicles of Narnia (including "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," The THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS is still one of Lewis’ most popular and influential works. The book's success is due to its piercing insight into human nature and the lucid and humorous way Lewis makes his readers squirm in self recognition. When first published in 1942 it brought immediate fame to this little-known Oxford don which included being featured on the cover of Time Magazine.

About the Production

The play was adapted and directed by Jeff Fiske and Max McLean, with scenic design by Cameron Anderson, costumes by Michael Bevins, lighting by Jesse Klug, and sound by John Gromada. All done with excellence. I especially enjoyed the technical aspects of the show (and the use of sidelight was the highlight of the overall brilliant design).

Brent Harris (not pictured) played
Screwtapeat this presentation.
This cast consisted of but two players, Brent Harris as Screwtape and Tamala Bakkensen as Toadpide, his minion, both quality performers. The show was dramatic and beautifully executed in every way. Bakkensen was a hoot and her performance was agile and, with just demonic gibberish, quite entertaining.  Harris carries the bulk of the show and is a demanding presence. BUT, in the end, it amounts to a ninety-minute discourse in theology--dramatic as it may be.

I found the play, like the book, heavy handed and difficult. There is not a single C.S. Lewis book that I have read that I liked (be it fiction or non). I like his stories and his intellect, but not his way of telling. Many do, I understand that, for he brings great insight into theology and Christian issues (though I am inclined to disagree with his take on certain issues).

This work is certainly an eye-opener, and though many find it funny, I did not. It cuts to the marrow with its message, so be prepared to look for lessons and be challenged. You should be convicted. It is a creative and stellar work that examines human frailty and the shortcomings of the Christian church (blaming it on demonic influence).

All photographs and video provided.

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