October 30, 2008


I love living in Chicago--it's a great theater town! And last night, three other sisters and myself had a front row seat in hell. Literally. "Screwtape Letters"--the C. S. Lewis book about a senior devil coaching a junior devil how to tempt humans--is now playing at the Mercury Theater: 773-325-1700.

Our tickets said "obstructed view." Hmmmm. What was our view obstructed by? The stage itself. Sitting down, we were eye-level with the edge of the stage, and our knees were pressed up against it. We are not making this up. The theater was ice-cold. I mean icy. Why? Because we were right next to a large air vent from the great outdoors (some fire code, no doubt). Max McLean (Uncle Screwtape) has some mighty acting chops, and some mighty saliva glands. It was like being under a steady rainforest mist. When the fog machine started blowing RIGHT IN OUR FACES, we couldn't stop laughing. It was like St. Alphonsus di Liguori's "Preparation for Death." It was truly an experience of hell and an opportunity to "offer it up." Sr. Anne kept talking about hot cocoa and echinacea all the way home on the CTA.

Atmospherics notwithstanding, "Screwtape" is magnificent. If you've read the book, it'll all come "flooding" back to you (in more ways than one). Max McLean*--with British accent--is outstanding, and his minion-secretary, Toadpipe (Yvonne Gougelet for our production), is one agile and ticklish demon. She takes dictation, bounds and contorts around the stage, and, most hilariously, acts out what we humans look like to the realms below. (One very cool thing about having our schnozzes eye-level with "the-demon-lady-all-in-gray" was that we could see her toenails which were painted a glossy gray to match her fingernails. Tres, tres cool.)

I could see "Screwtape" over and over again. It's like audiobooks gone visual. Much to chew on. A pert reminder of what's really important in time and eternity, and what's it's all for. (One man leaving the theater said: "Boy, am I convicted!") Just remember the following:
His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape----------senior demon
Wormwood---------------------------------junior demon
Toadpipe-----------------------------------Screwtape's secretary
The Patient---------------------------------a young man
The Enemy----------------------------------God
our father below------------------------------Satan
Some highlights:

--The idea that death is the worst thing that could happen to us was invented by the devil ("our father below").

--Pleasure was invented by God, and hell--even with all its research--has not been able to produce even one true pleasure.
--Satan requires everything from us and gives us nothing in return.
--Middle age is a great time for the devil to wear you down.
--The devil loves to use vagueness to keep us subjugated.
--It's not so much sin or "big sins" that the devil uses. He'll use whatever will take us away from God.
--The devil is a "realist."
--To believe in the possibility/existence of love is a heresy in Hades.
--The devil--like he convinced Adam and Eve to be--is suspicious of God--there's no such thing as love, so what is He really up to?

If you live in Chi-town, or are planning to come here between now and January, go see something truly "Wicked": "Screwtape Letters."
*Max McLean has done much Christian theater and recorded three versions of the Bible on CD. An ad for the Bible CDs in the playbill says: "Screwtape does NOT recommend these. Listen at your own risk."


  1. Anonymous5:55 AM

    Sister Burns, why do you think middle age is a great time for the devil to wear you down? I have an idea, but I want to know what you think. Thank you!
    -a 22 year old (so I haven't been middle-aged yet)

  2. dear agent 22,
    ahhhh--that's straight from the infernal mouth of Screwtape himself! if doug coupland is right, we have all our "important experiences" before 30--then what? "midlife crisis," "the noonday devil"--we start to look back and regret or feel sorry for ourselves or want to be 22 again, or suddenly feel entitled to everything we missed, or think we need to start over, or make rash and stupid choices, and panic because death is right around the corner, etc., etc., etc.
    but it don't have to be that way. leo tolstoy said: "if you refuse to be 40, you'll be spiritually sterile for the rest of your life." so, i'm sure the opposite is true, also! if you AGREE to be 40, you'll be fruitful! check out my essay "@ 40" under "my workshops" under my links on my blog. so now you know i've been there, done that, am wearing the t-shirt. God bless.

  3. Anonymous12:21 PM

    Thanks for your reply! I had a vague idea, but you say it much better!
    -"agent 22"