WASHINGTON – Cruel yet humorous senior devil Screwtape and his sidekick Toadpipe won the hearts of theater-goers Sunday as they plotted and brooded on how to undermine the faith of a new Christian and tempt him into hell.
Audience members of the play "The Screwtape Letters," adapted from the popular C.S. Lewis book, were granted access to an office in hell occupied by Screwtape and his demon-animal personal secretary.
Screwtape, throughout the play, reads letters from his junior tempter nephew Wormwood from above, and replies with detailed guidance on the moral weaknesses of man and how best to tempt "the patient" to sin with the ultimate goal of landing him in hell.
As the wickedly witty devil schemes, viewers get a magnified view of their own sins, bringing to light more subtle sins such as pride in being humble or being a "connoisseur" or "taster" of churches.
"This play reminds me that it is the small things that matter in one's faith life," said audience member Martina Gist. "Although we may be good at the big things, it is really the small things that are more difficult."
Among the many thought-provoking ideas Lewis presents through Screwtape is the concept that it is not big sins like murder or adultery that necessarily land people in hell, but it is the cumulative effect of all the small sins.
One pastor, who requested to remain anonymous, said the idea of big versus little sins reminded him of the Bible story of Abraham cutting in half the heifer, goat, and ram – the big things – but not being able to cut in half or separate the small dove or pigeon.
"It is easy for most people to cut off sins like murder, adultery, or stealing," reflected the pastor. "But it is much harder to separate ourselves from sins such as pride, self-centeredness, and purity."
The play also highlighted temptations of falling into moderate religiosity, superficiality, lust, and intellectual arrogance.
"I think we need to take Satan very seriously," said Max McLean, the actor playing Screwtape, to The Christian Post in an interview Monday, when asked what he wanted the audience to walk away with after watching the play.
McLean said during the Middle Ages Satan was caricatured as having horns and a tail to mock him, because mocking the devil hurts his pride.
"But in our day, the idea of Satan and the devil is being minimized in our culture," McLean said. "We don't have to personify him in a particular way, but we have to recognize that he is there and he is God's enemy."
The Christian actor, referring to John Milton's work "Paradise Lost," noted that people need to remember that Satan would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven and he'd like to bring us with him.
The Screwtape Letters began showing in Washington, D.C., on April 17 and will run through May 18. The initial production of the play opened in New York City in January 2006 for 11 sold-out weeks. Then in Fall 2007, the play showed again in New York City for another 12 sold-out weeks.