Screwtape at Edmonton Fringe Festival

Screwtape
Holy Trinity Anglican Church (10037 84 avenue) August 15 – 24 (every day)


An interview with John D. Huston

John D. Huston in Screwtape. Photo credit: Gord McKenzie

John D. Huston in Screwtape. Photo credit: Gord McKenzie

Describe your show in five words.

Even for demons: work’s Hell.

Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?

Screwtape, V.P. in charge of Damnation, multitasks his way through a very bad day. If he messes up – there’s hell to pay. Dark comedy and spiritual reflections from C.S. Lewis.

What did you enjoy so much about The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast that made you decide to adapt the novels into a play?

I’ve thought for years that The Screwtape Twins, as I call them, would make an interesting play. Nor am I alone in this: there are numerous adaptations of The Screwtape Letters out there. The different styles of the two works, one is a speech, one a series of letters, gave me a frame to build on: the idea that he’s multitasking, juggling all these tasks. As for the character of Screwtape: the baddies are always the most fun to perform; while unquestionably malevolent he’s also funny, conceited, arrogant, a real jerk. He operates from his reptile brain: it’s always about what will serve him. Such characters are fun to play but a nightmare to encounter in real life and there’s a bit of Screwtape in all of us. The play lets me control him and keep him at a safe distance. Also, both works became Public Domain this year and I could have my wicked way with them.

Adapting two novels into one play is quite the feat – how did you decide what made the cut?

That was very hard; the process took me 10 months. C.S.Lewis wrote the works to be read and ruminated over so, transferring them to a medium where the audience will hear them and then have to move on to “now here’s something else to think about,” meant a lot had to be jettisoned. Ultimately, the final cuts were made for brutally practical reasons. Both Screwtape writings are famously described as “anti-sermons”. I decided early on that I would only perform my script in places of worship as a way to heighten the tension between text and space. All my Fringe Fests venues have been churches whose pews are often not made for long term sitting. So, I decided that the run time should not exceed a lean 75 minutes. At my first preview I had to cut 10 minutes of plot to keep it to that. My ideal run time would be 100 minutes in 2 acts with intermission. There’s more than enough meat on the bones of these two novels to make a full evening of theatrical consumption.

Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?

This is my 20th solo show and my 16th time at the Edmonton Fringe. Screwtape is my first new show is 6 years; I’ve been on a hiatus for health reasons. I’m very proud of the show and excited to be back at one of the great theatre festivals in my favourite theatre city.

The 33rd Edmonton International Fringe is August 14 – 24. Get your tickets at tickets.fringetheatre.ca

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