Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
A large audience of students gathered in Upper Tarble yesterday to attend “Screwtape in Person.” Actor Tom Key delivered the one-man adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ novel, “The Screwtape Letters” with theatrical virtuosity. The performance was followed by a discussion session with Key. Free abridged versions of “The Screwtape Letters” were given out by the Swarthmore Christian Fellowship and the Swarthmore Progressive Christians.
“Welcome to Hell!” experienced tempter and senior devil Screwtape told the audience, after a brief endorsement from the temporarily resurrected author, C. S. Lewis himself. He continued by congratulating all the devils gathered at their graduation, now ready to go into the world and serve “our father below.” In particular he called out his nephew, Wormwood. In every graduating class from the Tempters’ Training College for Young Devils, one graduate’s work is presented with the aim of achieving maximum humiliation. “I have no wish to reduce the wholesome and realistic element of terror, the unremitting anxiety,” you all feel. This humorous use of reversed desires set the tone for the following toast.
Screwtape elaborated on the dinner served at this graduation. Devils feed solely on the souls of the tempted. Though the quantity of sinners before him was pleasing, Wormwood their quality disappointed him. He elaborated that it is through petty sins, through slow degradation of moral character that hell has managed to capture so many from the enemy. Then, with longing memory, he recalled the taste of a Hitler or a Henry VIII. Finally, he concludes the toast by complimenting the vintage of Pharisee bubbling and suffering in his glass. Though the decline of faith in the world above is satisfying, it is religion that, “can still send us the truly delicious sins. Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.”
Key continued by introducing a series of “college officials.” From the President, Professor Slubgob, to the heavily accented Professor Unteach, Key displayed a great skill at assuming distinct accents and mannerisms for each character. He even used the technique of faking a sudden mistake to transition into a “Southern Californian with an undergraduate degree in media studies.” Through these expressive personalities, hell’s message to its promising demons was explained. Tempt your “patient” through petty sins. Subvert his faithful tendencies into hypocrisy and turn his romance into the beginning of domestic strife. It is through the perversions of good intentions that the greatest harm can be wrought. Unfortunately, Wormwood fails to successfully follow this advice. He sends his patient off to war, where the man reaches an epiphany not long before his death and acceptance into Heaven. Key’s illumination of C. S. Lewis’ work presented both thoughts on morality and theatrical entertainment to an appreciative audience.