An appointment with the devil’s doctor

McLean could drag you to hell if you’re not careful.

Somewhere deep in hell there’s a savvy psychiatrist who knows exactly how to lure you to the underworld.

“He really understands human nature. He knows people’s weaknesses, knows where to pounce,” says Max McLean. “Screwtape is the predator and he has his eye set on every man on earth.”

McLean plays the lead in “The Screwtape Letters,” a play adapted from the C. S. Lewis satirical novel of the same name. The story centers on Screwtape, Satan’s senior demon who advises his nephew how to win over an unsuspecting human.

“He says, ‘The safest road to hell is the gradual one,’” quotes McLean from the script. “Screwtape just wants to encourage the path that we’re already on, our go-with-the-flow/don’t-resist-anything nature.”
Lewis, a deeply religious man, created this morally backward universe in which God is the “enemy” to show how temptation seduces spiritual followers.

“It’s probably one of the best examples of reverse psychology in literature,” says McLean.

Listening to a sermon in church which might tell you how to act just doesn’t have the same effect as hearing it from the devil’s perspective, McLean points out. And audiences need not be Christians, or religious at all, to connect with the show.

“Screwtape puts a mirror to our behavior,” says McLean. “Some of the laughs are kind of uncomfortable, because you’re thinking ‘I wish he wouldn’t remind me that I do that.’ ”

Reason to believe

C. S. Lewis had a long spiritual journey before writing “The Screwtape Letters”: He dabbled in aetheism, paganism and mysticism before settling into Christianity.

“The road he went on contributed so much to the irony and cynicism of this story,” says McLean. “He really understood an audience that had trouble believing.”

If you go
   
‘The Screwtape Letters’
Friday, 8 p.m.
Saturday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Cutler Majestic Theatre
219 Tremont St., Boston
617-824-8000, $39-$89
www.aestage.org



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