The Screwtape Letters is making waves in Chicago, extending its showing date a third time since opening last month.
Initially scheduled to run from Oct. 2 to Nov. 9 at the Mercury Theatre, the production by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts is now set to run through Jan. 4, after extending to Nov. 23 and later to Dec. 10.
“Director Jeffrey Fiske delivers beautifully crafted and eloquently executed theater to be sure,” commented Venus Zarris of the Chicago Stage Review. “[T]he sheer beautiful theatricality and devilishly playful wickedness of this gorgeous production … makes for a uniquely entertaining event.”
Based on the C.S. Lewis novel of the same title, The Screwtape Letters follows a senior devil, Screwtape, and his secretary, Toadpipe, as they train an apprentice demon, Wormwood, on how to “undermine faith and prevent the formation of virtues” in a young man who has just converted to Christianity.
Though Lewis provides a series of lessons in the importance of taking a deliberate role in living out Christian faith in The Screwtape Letters, both the novel and the play have drawn people from all faiths and even no faiths.
“Even those who abhor most religiously oriented literature – people who wouldn’t be caught dead reading ‘Left Behind’ or other apocalyptica – are ready to give Lewis some space in their lives,” noted Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones in his review of the play.
“Once hooked on Narnia, pretty much everybody likes Lewis,” he wrote, referring to Lewis’ popular “Chronicle of Narnia” series. “That’s probably why sales are very brisk for the new dramatic version of ‘The Screwtape Letters’ that’s arrived at the Mercury Theatre in Chicago after doing decent business in New York and Washington.”
According to the play’s publicists, the initial production of The Screwtape Letters opened in New York City in January 2006 for a limited three-week run but ran for eleven sold-out weeks due to popular demand. After building on its success, the play reopened in the fall of 2007 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s in New York for another twelve sold-out weeks to rave reviews from audiences and critics alike.
In April 2008, it transferred to The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre in Washington, D.C., for a five-week run. Again, it played to sold out and standing room-only audiences.
Since premiering in Chicago, the hit drama has received broad critical acclaim.
“[J]udging by opening night, the Devil may finally have found his home,” wrote Michael J. Roberts of Showbiz Chicago.
“With the tour de force performance of Max McLean, hopefully this production will be around for a long time to come,” he added.
In addition to the 90-minute performance, the Chicago production will feature special Wednesday night talk-backs with co-creator and star Max McLean and co-creator and director Fiske from Nov. 5 through Dec. 10. During the talk-backs, McLean and Fiske will foster audience discussions about the show’s provocative themes and answer questions about how they adapted C.S. Lewis’ classic novel into a hit stage production.
There is no show scheduled for Nov. 26.