A devil of a good time

Actor Max McLean has been working like the devil for years.

More precisely, he has been portraying a senior demon, Screwtape, in the vast bureaucracy of the Devil, in the two-person show, "The Screwtape Letters," which will be presented at 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Alex Theatre.

The 57-year-old McLean has been getting into the mind of the demon Screwtape since 2006, when he and his theater company, Fellowship for the Performing Arts, tested the waters for a stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis' satiric novel, "The Screwtape Letters."

With the popular appeal of cinematic versions of Lewis' novels — "The Chronicles of Narnia" series — audiences are looking deeper into Lewis' work.

"The Screwtape Letters" is a provocative and funny theatrical adaptation of the Lewis' novel about spiritual warfare from a demon's point of view. In it, Screwtape dictates letters to his nephew, Wormwood, advising the junior demon in the fine art of persuading humans to part with their souls.

McLean noted that the play, "The Screwtape Letters," is not for young children. He recommends that viewers be at least junior high age to understand Lewis' insights and humor.

"It's a morally inverted universe," McLean said two days before the show closed at Manhattan's Westside Theatre after 300 performances. "People of all faiths come to see it because it could be enlightening to have a 90-minute conversation with the devil."

McLean, who developed and performed in the one-man shows "Mark's Gospel" and "Genesis" and has recorded audio books of the Bible, said he loves playing the demon, Screwtape.

"I know this guy. He is the smartest guy in the room. He likes the way he looks, and he enjoys ruining people's lives," McLean said in his deep, mellifluous voice.

Though the show has two characters on stage, only Screwtape speaks. The other character is his assistant, Toadpipe (played by Beckly Andrews and Tamala Bakkensen). The creature transforms her elastic body into the vices and characters needed to lead the "Patient" toward damnation.

Adapted and directed by Jeff Fiske and McLean, the show's scenic design is by Cameron Anderson, costumes by Michael Bevins, lighting by Jesse Klug, and original music and sound design by John Gromada.

"People are asking more questions about C.S. Lewis after seeing this show," said executive producer Ken Denison, a former Disney theatrical producer who rolled out "The Lion King" in New York and 11 other companies. "Our adaptation takes you on a journey. It is a very special piece."

This production of "The Screwtape Letters" has received the blessings of the Lewis estate and Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis' stepson, who came to New York to see it.

"His vision is of protecting the legacy of Lewis, and he thinks we are doing that," McLean said.

Fellowship for the Performing Arts decided to open its national tour at the Alex Theatre.

"We see this as a very prestigious engagement for the Alex, as Glendale is one of just four cities on the West Coast where this production will be appearing," said Barry McComb, chief executive of Glendale Arts.

After the Alex, the show will go to San Diego, Portland and Seattle, and then move east. When the national tour is over, McLean and his Fellowship for the Performing Arts will begin developing a play based on "The Great Divorce," another novel by Lewis.



What: "The Screwtape Letters"

Where: Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $29 to $89; student tickets for $25, limit two per customer

Contact: (818) 243-2539, or visit http://www.alextheatre.org

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