Set in the “Tempters’ Training College for young devils in Hell,” the play begins with Screwtape (aka Satan) standing at a podium, addressing, “Mr. Principal, your Imminence, your Disgraces, my Thorns, Shadies and Gentledevils.” At his feet is Toadpipe (Tamala Bakkensen), described in the script as Screwtape’s Secretary and a demonic creature.
With her red-flecked costume and frizzy hair, Toadpipe grunts and hisses throughout the performance. She also regularly climbs up a black, crooked ladder stage right to send Screwtape’s letters to his nephew, Wormwood, the contents of which comprise Screwtape’s virtual monologue.
It’s all played out on a handsomely designed set by Cameron Anderson, featuring–in addition to that black ladder–a rear wall composed of seemingly endless bones and tiny skulls and a red wing-backed leather chair, upon which Screwtape sits as he recites his letters to Wormwood. There are, of course, many references to God, who is named “the Enemy,” as well as a good many adages, such as “a moderated religion is as good as no religion at all–and more amusing,” and “We know that the Enemy cannot really love: nobody can.”
If Lewis succeeded with anything in his novel, it was the naming of his characters. In addition to Screwtape, Toadpipe and Wormwood, there’s the principal’s name: Mr. Slubgob. Lewis also, in an author’s note that appears in the program, says that “readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar” and that “there is wishful thinking in Hell as well as on Earth.”
Though there isn’t much to hope for in the stage version, Bakkensen excels as Toadpipe–if only she had lines to say in addition to her grunts and guttural sounds. And Michael Bevins’ costume designs prove extremely inventive.
C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (through December 30, 2018)
Fellowship for Performing Arts
Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-947-8844 or visit http://www.fpatheatre.com
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission