MIDVALE — C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters is a satire consisting of correspondence between the novice demon Wormwood and his uncle Screwtape. In the book, Screwtape mentors Wormwood in his attempt to lure a man named Mike down the path to damnation. Success would mean both their promotion in the bureaucracy that is Hell. The play Screwtape, written by James Forsyth, moves beyond a two-man dialogue by following Mike throughout his daily life with demons lurking, unseen, about him.
The play opens on Screwtape (Andy Maizner) lecturing Wormwood (John Rowland, marvelously dressed in a “Route 666” t-shirt) as he is about to commence his first day on the job. Wormwood bites his nails and slinks around the stage in the posture one might expect of a demon, while Screwtape twists his long pointed tail with British poise and reprimands Wormwood’s cowardice. When “the patient” Mike (Sam C. Mcginnis V) wakes up, Wormwood instantly begins setting things askew, filling Mike’s head with terse remarks to his mother (Nancy Jensen) and coworkers (Jim Schroeder, Elise C. Hanson, Jeffrey Owen), and attracting him to various irresponsible behaviors.
Before long, Screwtape and Wormwood clash over technique. While Screwtape urges that Hell may be reached via such subtle sins as apathy, greed, and impatience, Wormwood has his heart set on luring Mike into a raucous life of debauchery. Screwtape eventually enlists the help of the she-devil Slumptrimpet (Cami Rozanas) to employ her sexpertise to help Wormwood bring his plans to fruition. Though the demons are always lurking in the corners, conspiring and backbiting, Mike’s life drives the story. The demons latch onto him and attempt to make his life as miserable as possible at every turn.
While I was generally engaged, I can’t say I always knew what was going on. The combined evils of poor British accents and a low quality sound system (Michele & Patrick Rideout) meant that I couldn’t always understand what the characters were saying. Additionally, I wished I knew what criteria or threshold-of-evil the demons were trying to get Mike to reach. There was no rubric for prioritizing one sin over another—except as espoused by Screwtape who sometimes was lying, but I was never sure of when. For example, unless I was entirely mistaken on Screwtape’s actual beliefs (which is very possible) he seemed to believe that general irritability and laziness were viler than casual date rape and drunken brawls. I still don’t know why the play ended the way it did.
Even though I’d given up trying to figure out the motivations of Screwtape and Slumptrimpet by the second act, the play was still easy to watch. Directed by Michele Rideout, Silver Summit Theatre Company’s production balanced the storylines such that even when I didn’t know what the demons were talking about, Mike’s life provided a solid basis for the rest of the action. Throughout most of the play, speedy execution kept Mike’s life moving forward at a quick pace that distracted me from confusing plot points. There were a few scenes where Mike’s life became as text heavy as the demons’, and I wished his girlfriend (played convincingly by Victoria Gonzalez) would get off her high horse and just succumb to temptation already. Still, these scenes were few and far between, so very little harm was done.
The general quick pace was helped by the way the set (Emily Decker, David & Jacob Bruner) consisted of little more than a few tables and a bench. Each piece was frequently turned about and even unfolded to double as some other implement.
The play was held together by the charisma of its main characters. As the three demons, Rozanas, Maizner, and Rowland had such great chemistry that I was rooting for them from the start, despite their occasionally incomprehensible dialogue and the whole satanic horde thing. Their excellent comic timing and amusing costumes (Nancy Jensen) made them easily my favorite characters. McGinnis played Mike as a sort of everyman who was easy to sympathize with, even when his motivations were unclear. I was especially impressed when McGinnis perfectly imitated another actor’s mannerisms during a scene where Mike was briefly possessed by a demon.
I’ve never read The Screwtape Letters, so I can’t say whether this play is true to the sentiment of its source material. I don’t know if the flaws in the script are carryovers from the book or whether they are Forsyth’s own invention. What I can say is that Silver Summit Theatre did a respectable job under the circumstances. With the confusing plot and low quality sound system, this production could have easily been a bust, but the cast and crew exhibited enough talent to provide a generally entertaining show.