What: "The Screwtape Letters"
When: 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9
Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.
A new devil may be coming to town, but he's up to the same old tricks.
"The Screwtape Letters," a provocative and wickedly funny touring theatrical adaptation of the C.S. Lewis novel of the same name about spiritual warfare from a demon's point of view, returns to Chattanooga for two shows on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Tivoli Theatre.
"I think the show is clearer," said Max McLean, who adapted and directs this show after starring in it here in 2009. "I think we've unlocked some of the theatricality that makes the message more poignant, more hard-hitting."
The play, following the book, reveals a morally inverted universe set in a stylish office in hell, where the devil is "our father below" and God is the enemy. What unfolds is Satan's top psychiatrist -- His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape -- and his toady Toadpipe training an apprentice demon, Wormwood, on how to ruin the life and soul of an unsuspecting human on Earth.
McLean, who also serves as producing artistic director, has ceded the psychiatrist role to Brent Harris.
"He has a different personality than I do," McLean said. "He is very athletic, and he has a fabulous vocal instrument. He sounds like [actor] Jeremy Irons."
The character, he said, believes he looks, talks and dresses better than anybody. He's confident and relaxed, he said.
"He's the smartest guy in the room," McLean said. "He has that pride. In order to catch you, he tries to woo you."
Chattanooga theatergoers who saw the 2009 performance will find "the script is pretty much the same, perhaps a little tighter," McLean said. "The set is different -- amped up, much brighter. The sound design has been overhauled, and the light design is a little different.
"I think we've spent $10 million to keep it running [since 2009]," he said.
The play is relevant even to people who have no particular religious convictions, McLean said.
"The purpose of the piece is about the choices you make in everyday life," he said. "Lewis said every time we make a choice, the central part of us changes just a little bit. Over the course of one's lifetime, we're slowly turning into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature. Most people, regardless of what their faith belief is, would prefer to be around heavenly creatures rather than hellish ones."
Contact Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.