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Author Mary Eberstadt discusses stage adaptation of 'The Loser Letters'

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The Harkte Theater of Catholic University in Washington will host the world premiere of “The Loser Letters,” from Sept. 29 to Oct. 9. The play is directed by Jeffrey Fiske, known for his stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Screwtape Letters. 

Both “The Loser Letters” and “The Screwtape Letters” are plays adapted from books that satirize Christianity from a non-believer’s perspective through monologue. In the case of “The Loser Letters,” the story follows a young woman named, A.F. Christian (A Former Christian), who advises her atheist peers how to persuade more Christians to join them. 

The play is based on the book, The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death and Atheism, and its author, Mary Eberstadt, spoke at an open discussion titled, “Art and the Search for God” at the Catholic Information Center in Washington Sept. 20.

Eberstadt, a Catholic, wrote Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution (2013), and most recently, It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies (2016). Ten years ago, she was inspired to write outside of her traditional non-fiction critiques on modern society when she saw a rise in new atheist literature. “It felt as if it was time to engage the debate with new atheists from a completely different direction,” said Eberstadt. 

She found her arena on the National Review Online. It was a weekly serialized effort to tell a story, particularly to the millennial generation, that would prompt theistic questions from both religious and non-religious. To her delight it generated much attention and online response. 

In 2010, Ignatius Press published the episodic work as a novel. Fellow National Review contributor Michael Novak suggested taking the work to the stage. At the same time, Fiske was gaining acclaim for the off-Broadway hit, “The Screwtape Letters.”

“I saw that ‘The Screwtape Letters’ got something very unusual, which was highly praising reviews on the front pages of both the art section of The Washington Post and The New York Times. So this was a play with religious content that had been crafted in such a way that a secular audience could follow along and secular critics could acclaim it,” said Eberstadt.

When Eberstadt and Fiske began contemplating how to reinvent “The Loser Letters” for the theater, it became obvious she was out of her element. “The awareness of risk was intense,” said Eberstadt, going from the comforts of writing non-fiction essays alone to a collaborative theatrical endeavor. 

The lead role of A.F. Christian is played by Madeleine Murphy, and the silent and insidious role of the Shadow is a debut performance for Chellsie Memmel, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist. The play features the choreography work of Irina Tsikurishvili, a 14-time Helen Hayes Award winning choreographer and actress.

“The hope is that this will do what Jeff did with ‘Screwtape’, which is to make a secular audience look at this story,” said Eberstadt.

Eberstadt believes Christians have forgotten how to tell a good story, and they should take risks to evangelize through the arts as was done in the past. 

“We (should) not think of Christianity and the arts as part of some bygone golden era but as something that could be recreated for the future,” said Eberstadt. 


Find out more
For tickets, go to loserlettersonstage.com, or call 202/319-5958. Harkte Theater, 3801 Harewood Rd. N.E., Washington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016