If you don't know the story, it goes something like this (no spoilers, I promise): Wormwood, neophyte fiend and demon tormentor, gets his first job stealing Mike's soul. But being such a dunce at the whole evil-devil-thing, he needs uncle Screwtape to give advice. Lots of advice. Too much advice? Controlling? While it may not be your Grandmother's C.S. Lewis, Warehouse Theatre's, Screwtape still offers plenty to chew on. (And no, I'm not talking about the oft-threatened feast of defunct demons.)
Let's start with the adaptation, which appears to be an interesting contortionist exercise by James Forsyth. The script almost seems a reaction against demon Screwtape's (in)famously arrogant pontifications. Forsyth has cast-off the epistolary structure in favor of forcing a rather castrated Screwtape to bungle his way through the "adventures" alongside his nephew Wormwood. The result is a script that can't seem to decide where (or how) to cast its fiendish gaze. It's not satirical. It's not absurd. It's definitely not real. It's . . . ?
This is not to say anything against the actors charged with playing these conflicted roles, or the fantastic designers. Shannon Robert turns in a fun and functional set worthy of Wonderland's rabbit hole. April Schaeffer deserves double applause, both for the show's electric choreography (these sections spoke more to Lewis' point than most of Forsyth's text--I found myself wishing for an entirely dance-based riff on Screwtape) and for her own beautifully stylized Milly. Roberta Barnes (Slumtrimpet the demon sexpert) and Michele Labar (Mike's [s]Mother) followed suit with their own hyperbolic performances.
Jason Adkins provides a disconcertingly normal (disillusioned, often discouraged) chap for the devils to torment, and Tara Sweeney excels in a particularly difficult role--one that could have easily run into a saintly sweet and surface-y lampoon. Instead, her overtly Christian Judy comes off as refreshingly complete. And one last brief note of kudos to Miranda Notus: the small character Queenie who absolutely commanded her scene and my attention. I hope to see more from her soon.
Then of course, we have the demons. Screwtape (Kevin Treu) and Wormwood (Daryl Ward Phillipy). Both exerted tremendous force and energy on the text and on their "patient." Phillipy even pulled off some grand laughs. But unfortunately for the poor devils, I think the adaptation lacked an essential verve, a vital energy, of belief. At every turn the text undercuts the spirits (incompetent fools), and steals the heart of what could be two delicious villains. I mean, we all know, wink, wink, that devils aren't real. Right? Well, at least for the space of an evening, let us feel their full and fallen glory.
And as for Lewis' theology--well, I'll let the seminary students duke it out on that one. Did or didn't Forsythe remain true to Lewis' doctrine of the soul? Your answer will depend on two things: just how closely you attend to the surprise ending(s), and how much trust you (foolishly?) put in the original Screwtape as a reliable narrator of his own tail. Uhm...tale.
James Forsyth's "Screwtape," adaptated from C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters
Presented by Warehouse Theatre, 37 Augusta St., Greenville (864) 235-6948. Through December 18. Tickets $25. Students $15.