Now it can be told: The satanic pen is actually mightier than Lucifer's sword. Proving it while comfortably ensconced in his armchair is the senior devil Screwtape (McLean) who mails dispatches to his nephew, an imp clearly in need of tips on mankind-corrupting. In C.S. Lewis's playful The Screwtape Letters, the "abysmal sublimity's" helpful hints include: Allow the meat puppets some prayer, since nothing rots like pride in devotion, and just when an apostate turns his face to God, distract with lunch. Anything other than debate, strong emotion or pure enjoyment belongs in the devil's toolbox, and McLean unpacks it for us, dutifully.
Adapting epistolary fiction is never easy, and McLean and Jeffrey Fiske's solution—to have Screwtape dictate to a focus-pulling demon (Karen Eleanor Wight) in Cirque du Soleil castoffs—wears increasingly thin. McLean's long time in the role has clearly pushed him to the far reaches of vocal mannerism, rolling rs and popping ts even to the point of obliterating basic sense. But Lewis's ideas, always clear, do shoulder past him.
Lewis, as in his beloved tales of Narnia, here presents a particular brand of Christian instruction—namely, the marriage of the cozy and the theological. Your tolerance for his chiding tone, his "if you don't share your sweets, you are directly responsible for the crucifixion of your Lord" paternalism, is quintessentially a matter of taste. Handsome but wildly hammified, The Screwtape Letters sits squarely in that mode, and whether you find it a heaven or a hell depends on you. No matter your position, though, at least Screwtape gets you thinking, and that can only be the work of the angels.—Helen Shaw