A Devilish New Comedy: David MacGregor's "The Antichrist Cometh" debuts at The Purple Rose Theatre


The cast of The Purple Rose's The Antichrist Cometh.

The cast of The Purple Rose's The Antichrist Cometh, clockwise from upper left: Ryan Carlson, Hope Shangle, Ryan Patrick Welsh, and Ashley Wickett. Photos courtesy of The Purple Rose.

David MacGregor's plays have been performed in 15 countries, including India, Israel, South Korea, and Tasmania. 

But the Michigan-born artist develops most of his world premieres right here at home.

Among the works the resident playwright for The Purple Rose Theatre Company debuted on the Chelsea stage are his Sherlock Holmes trilogy, Vino VeritasGravityConsider the Oyster, The Late Great Henry Boyle, and his latest play, the hilarious The Antichrist Cometh, which begins previews there on March 22 and opens March 29.

John, an advertising exec, hasn’t seen Duncan, his old college roommate, for years. John and his wife, Lili, have Duncan and his fiancée, Fiona, for dinner. Fiona is devoutly religious and notices things that bring her to a startling conclusion:

John is the Antichrist!  

“The basic idea for this play occurred to me a long time ago," MacGregor says. "I’m not personally religious, but I’ve read the Bible and Koran because they’re such important and influential texts. The Book of Revelations says the Antichrist will arrive on Earth."

MacGregor named his protagonist John, referencing the Book of John and the letters of John, but says, “John is a regular everyday guy who gradually realizes he might be the Antichrist.” 

Promotional image for Purple Rose's The Antichrist Cometh featuring the play's title, credits, run date, and horns against a red background.

“It’s not a play about the devil,” director Rhiannon Ragland says. “It’s a really, really fun look at four friends finding love in their lives and coming together to celebrate this. And then, as [people at] dinner parties do, they start asking questions.” 

“If you start asking questions about this stuff, it leads to interesting answers,” MacGregor says, adding he’s more interested in raising questions than insisting on answers. “This is a comedy, a little dark, and it’s a love story. Maybe he’s the Antichrist, but [his wife] loves him regardless. It’s about the redemptive power of being loved and having someone you can love.”

MacGregor attended most rehearsals and Ragland says he was quick to make changes in the script if something isn’t working: “It’s so collaborative. The best idea wins.” 

In fact, he made a very big change before the show was slated for this season. The Antichrist Cometh began as a one-act play, which MacGregor showed to Ragland years ago. When Purple Rose founder Jeff Daniels and Ragland were thinking about the upcoming season, which is all comedies, she remembered it, and MacGregor was game to turn it into a full-length play.

At the early rehearsals, MacGregor was delighted with the cast, designers, and Ragland’s approach. But something worried him.

“The entire season is in the round,” he says, which means the audience is seated on all four sides of the stage. “That worked very well for Diva Royale [the farce that opened the season] but this is two couples in a living room. How do you do that without walls?” 

As rehearsals progressed, MacGregor relaxed.

“It’s part of the reason you go to see plays. It’s a multisensory form of entertainment," he says. "When things are in the round, it’s almost participatory.” 

MacGregor credits the “really cool sound and light effects" by Matthew Tibbs and Matt Taylor, respectively, and "an amazing cast” for creating a comedic entertainment that he intends to be “really enjoyable and thought-provoking.” 

Ragland, who had to block the show so that audiences could see it no matter where they sat, was also concerned at first but says that meeting the challenge was just a matter of hiring “world-class designers. The story will surround you.” 

Set design model for Purple Rose's The Antichrist Cometh.

Sarah Pearline's set-design model for Purple Rose's The Antichrist Cometh. Photo courtesy of Sarah Pearline.

Scenic designer Sarah Pearline says the thought of designing this play in the round “made me a bit nervous at first, but now I’m delighted with the format.”  

Pearline approached the design as she would generally, thinking about where the scenes are set and who occupies the space. Since the play is set in the living room of a professional couple without kids, she wanted a sophisticated look.

“Then, of course, possibly he’s the Antichrist,” Pearline mused. What would that require? 

She thought about a style that would support “not just Christianity and biblical times but ancient Greece and the oracle at Delphi, that kind of architecture, something that has stood the test of time. That sort of led me down a path to Brutalism without a lot of color or decoration. 

“It’s as if they were around a campfire in the cave … like a conversation pit without the pit," Pearline says. "They’re not totally trapped in there; there’s the rest of the house and some scenes that take place outside in a storm. There’s something slippery between the spaces.”

Special effects serve to define the spaces, and a small half wall that’s easy to see over allows a sofa with a backrest. 

The cast is Ryan Carlson, Hope Shangle, Ryan Patrick Welsh, and Ashley Wickett. Other crew members include props by Danna Segrest, costumes by Marley Boone, and stage manager Bill Carlton with the help of assistant stage manager Juliana Berry. 

Davi Napoleon, a theater historian and freelance writer, holds a BA and MA from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. from New York University. Her book is “Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theatre.”

"The Antichrist Cometh" begins previews on March 22. The play opens March 29, and runs through May 25 at The Purple Rose Theatre, 137 Park Street, Chelsea. For tickets and more information, visit purplerosetheatre.org or phone 734-433-7673.