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  • Nate Adams

'The Antichrist Cometh' review: Purple Rose comedy is caught in a domesticated holy war

Courtesy of Sean Carter Photography


What if you woke up one morning to find out you were the antichrist? What would you do with that knowledge? How would you influence those around you? These are the questions at the heart of “The Antichrist Cometh,” David MacGregor’s dark comedy that’s just held its world premiere at The Purple Rose. It’s an interesting, sometimes half-baked, single-location production outfitted with solid performances and intimate staging that, as usual with the Purple Rose productions, throws audiences right into the middle of the action. 


As much a satire based on religion as well as poking fun at those who are secular, “The Antichrist Cometh” presents a whirlwind of topics in the span of 80-minutes. Director Rhiannon Ragland keeps the pace on track despite MacGregor’s script sometimes stumbling over itself. The show begins with John (Ryan Patrick Welsh), a marketing executive preparing for a dinner party with his wife, Lili (Hope Shangle) when he discovers something peculiar on the side of his scalp: the number 666, better known as the mark of the beast. Where these numbers came from is anyone’s guess, but it sends John into a bit of an identity crisis tailspin. One that balloons with the arrival of Duncan (Ryan Carlson), an old college roommate, and Fiona (Ashley Wickett), his deeply religious fiancé, who jumps to various conclusions when John broches the subject of his newfound 666 blemish. Could he really be the devil reincarnated?


Things go from calm-to-bad-to-worse almost instantaneously, and the script attempts to draw battle lines while not so subtly pointing its finger at how society, both religions and not, tend to distort the truth to their own ideological views. Characters sling convincing arguments about how the bible has “all its bases covered” and “can justify whatever you want,” while also suggesting the possibility of rewriting your own story (John tries presenting an angle that he, as the devil, should then be allowed to change his fate if he wants too). These conversations glide thanks to the David Mamet style energy, but some of the dialgoue can occasionally be a little toothless.

The quartet of performers do good work: Welsh anchors the show with his stern and disciplined perseverance for his character’s overall divine purpose, while Shangle brings spark to Lili, a forensic pathologist quick to dub herself “a wicked specimen of the female species” and who, thanks to being an atheist, can offer the opposing viewpoints on the Bible’s merits. Carlson is a riot playing Duncan, whose character brings a welcome cohesiveness as the boisterous personality who just wants everyone to get along and Wickett makes the most out of Fiona, someone who can recite scripture word-for-word and keeps her iPad on standby should the need arise to cite bible verses for the sake of proving a point. Or, in one of the show’s more absurd plot developments, provide her justification to kill John with a butcher’s knife.

Running a tight 80-minutes, the show doesn’t have the luxury to flesh out the characters beyond their circumstances, which can force them into awkward physical/slapstick bits (like an out-of-nowhere brawl between Lili and Fiona) to fill moments rather than allowing the situational humor to develop in an organic sense. Like how quickly Fiona, who has only just met John and Lili, goes from: “the Lord has blessed you both” to “I will gut you like a fish” in a span of twenty minutes. 

While that journey can be somewhat jarring, the conversation about one’s spirituality and John’s demonic soul-searching keeps “The Antichrist Cometh” from getting completely sidetracked. Additionally, Sarah Peraline’s scenic work offers a warm and cozy aesthetic that’s both inviting and enclosed, sort-of-like a suburban boxing ring and Marley Boone’s costume design is subtle but effective. 

“The Antichrist Cometh” isn’t going to convert skeptics nor is it trying to preach the gospel (one can’t help but notice the irony in this show premiering during Easter weekend), and MacGregor is perfectly content with playing the devil’s advocate and ensures both sides are left a little bruised and battered. The social commentary won’t be lost in the middle of what’s going to be a contentious election cycle and though “The Antichrist Cometh” may lack the sharpness or density of the playwright’s previous works (namely the “Sherlock Holmes” series), there’s still plenty of subtext and ambiguity that lingers after the actors take their final bows. 

Regular performances of The Antichrist Cometh are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm with Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday matinees at 3:00pm and Sunday matinees at 2:00pm. The production runs through May 25, 2024. Tickets can be purchased here.


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