Encore Michigan

Review: ‘The AntiChrist Cometh’ to PRT

Preview April 06, 2024 David Kiley

CHELSEA, MI–In case you haven’t noticed, there is a whole lot being driven these days in the U.S. by organized religion. The prime moving force in one of the major parties is the evangelical Christian vote. The Supreme Court has been packed by the same party with people whose dossiers have their religious credentials highlighted in sparkly ink.

At the same time, though, the fastest growing religious self-identification label is “spiritual, but not religious.” Increasingly, those crowding Christian church pews—those that are still crowding pews—have “conservative” political values mirroring the hierarchies of those religious organizations.

It is into this current stew of religious conflict, corruption of ideals and rise in atheism that David MacGregor has written The AntiChrist Cometh, presented now at The Purple Rose Theatre.

John (Ryan Patrick Welsh) and his wife Lili (Hope Shangle) are preparing a dinner to welcome John’s best pal from their college/fraternity days, Duncan (Ryan Carlson) and his new fiancée, Fiona (Ashley Wickett). John, handsome to the point of qualifying for male fashion model, and Lilli are a very randy couple. Lili has a hard, intellectual edge to her, too. Before the guests arrive, John and Lili discover that he has something on his head, mostly concealed by his hair, either a birthmark or something else? that resembles the satanic “666.”

When Duncan and Fiona arrive, we learn that Fiona is very very religious. She has a bible on her tablet. And when the news that John has a devilish mark on his head, the conversation and visit focuses on whether John could be the actual anti-Christ.”

MacGregor is known for a few things in his plays, and he does not disappoint here: impeccable research, and turning that research into tight, witty storytelling; and writing dialogue that is as good as it gets into today’s theatre. Indeed, his dialogue writing has always been in the class of David Mamet. His knack for natural flowing conversation, including actors talking on top of one another, as well as his gift for infusing comedy in his writing without over-trying, is a hallmark of his plays.

Directed by Rhiannon Ragland, the cast is superb at delivering on MacGregor’s characters. Mr. Welsh is appropriately edgy, toggling between resisting the possibility that he has horns and being attracted to the idea of taking on God. Ms. Shangle’s Lili stikes a nice mash-up of devoted wife and skeptical atheist. Mr. Carlson is terrific as Duncan, a fun-loving insurance actuary (ironic, right?) who isn’t particularly religious, loves his old friend like a brother and has fallen for a bible-thumper. Ms. Wickett delivers on Fiona’s manic religiosity, while using MacGregor’s excellent writing to temper her faith vigor with a bit of Tequila.

There is nothing in AntiChrist that should offend  even the staunchest church-goer. Not really; though one could argue that the wit in and point of the story is to expose the silliness of some of the conflicting and over-reaching stories of the bible. John’s character, in particular, is good at knocking down the likelihood that an anti-Christ really is a thing. Even the Pope recently said the whole imagery of “hell” is pretty much nonsense, and he even let Lenten fish eaters off the hook.

The comedic streaks in the play take a broad, physical turn in the play when Fiona takes her fervor a bit far, but the play does not slip off the cliff. There is a great balance between the wit and the comedy, and the actors are superb at delivering on both.

The set design by Sarah Pearline complements the energy of the story, with the performance space ringed with modular couches. It’s a modern look that allows for the physical comedy and acting to fill the space. Matt Taylor’s lighting includes a grid of overhead LEDs laid out in big squares, which allows for interesting lighting changes that give the space an “otherly” quality, imparting the idea that we are not all the way in the space we think we are? Marley Boone designed costumes. Danna Seagrest is prop designer. Matthew Tibbs is sound designer.

The AntiChrist Cometh is funny, thought provoking, clever and timely. Who can ask for anything more?

Week of 7/15/2024

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