Barley Sheaf Players’ newest endeavor, the dramacomedy SCREWTAPE, is more inspired by than a strict adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. In a nutshell, senior demon Screwtape (Eric Merlino, clearly having fun in the role), who is bound to hell, sends his inexperienced nephew demon Wormwood (Steve Harding) to earth to secure the damnation of an oblivious human “patient”, a young engineer named Mike (Cameron Munson). Success in leading his patient to the netherworld presumably would allow Wormwood to earn his hellish stripes (or tail).
We observe as the two fiendish puppeteers (unseen by humans, but not unnoticed) indirectly interfere with all aspects of Mike’s life, causing his firing from work, putting him at odds with his church, and ultimately leading him to the worse end of a drunken brawl. Not one to stick to orders, however, Wormwood soon goes AWOL and manufactures his own scheme, much to the distress of his uncle. A welcome subplot emerges halfway through Act I, when seductive she-demon Slumtrimpet (“Slut” for short), deliciously portrayed by Lisabeth Fremont, arrives to toss further chaos into the mix. Her “patient” just happens to be Mike’s love interest (Krista Knight), and we watch as the minions battle for control over their earthly subjects. SCREWTAPE tugs at our voyeuristic desire to watch evil prevail over good. I admit to feeling a twinge of guilt in enjoying the demons’ pleasure as they destroyed the lives of an otherwise decent couple.
While director Scott Ryan obviously has a strong understanding of the source material, the production does suffer from some setbacks. A biting satire on religion and other societal conventions, SCREWTAPE’S challenging and unorthodox script requires perfect comic timing to effectively evoke the wit and dark humor contained therein. Unfortunately, pacing problems prevailed throughout the production, lessening the impact of the clever puns and muddying certain characters’ motivations. A partial culprit appears to be some actors’ lack of solidification with their lines, as there were several instances of fumbled words, awkward silences, and stepping on others’ dialogue at the performance I attended. I imagine this will improve as the run continues. Other production elements, such as costume design, were solid, and I got a kick out of the appropriate choice of scene change music (i.e. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”).
I do admire when a community theatre tackles a work outside the norm. Fans of C. S. Lewis likely will want to check this out, as SCREWTAPE is a worthy play seldom produced.
by James Forsyth
Directed by Scott Ryan
September 10 – 25, 2010
Barley Sheaf Players
810 N Whitford Rd