The Coming of Antichrist at The American Theater of Actors-a review by Michael Elias
There has always been an impulse in man (and woman) to follow one who says: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order” as witness the political events of this past fall campaign for someone to lead the nation. That impulse, that need, was the subject of The Coming of Antichrist at The Theater of American Actors for five performances this past August. The play, under the direction of Jeff Dailey, wisely chooses not to make any direct allusion to our own election (some might say “selection” but that is an argument for a different journal) of a politician who articulated those precise words at a political convention just last summer. The anonymous writers of the play speak to a spiritual impulse in all of us. Wisely, the play is an admonition to be wary of succumbing to that impulse no matter how desirous one might be for the comfort, indeed salvation, that it offers. This production keeps the issues clear and focuses on the false Messiah that is Satan and the challenge that this Antichrist makes toward the divinity of Jesus. The audience in no way is invited to apply the narrative or its moral instruction to current events, except for the never absent seduction we all face at all moments to abdicate our reason to the false promise of an entity that promises all we need is to accept a simple declaration of Godhood. But the thought inevitably is there as it is never absent in our lives.
Director Jeff Dailey makes the most of the limited resources he has available in this small room with little access to the stage and a low budget. He has begins the play with bizarre sounds and dissonant music, establishes character with the simplest of costumes but selects elements like robes, crowns, and masks to delineate their symbolic purpose, and uses a direct address to the audience at one point to ensure a degree of intimacy the archaic language and verse may otherwise inhibit.
Most fortunate for the company is the casting. The Theater of American Actors has always staged work with a mixture of extremely talented actors embarking on a new career and earning their dues, with a sample of theater novices destined for work off stage as set designers, directors, or costume designers. Theater succeeds with the combination of many talents finding their proper place and this production is no different. If the chorus has a few awkward moments, they are carried by the charismatic figures at the center of the drama. Rytis Valiunas is so vibrant and absorbing as Antichrist you can well understand how the Four Kings are infatuated with him. His entrance from the rear is electric. Dillon Monroe is a beautiful figure as Enoch and a worthy competitor to the Antichrist for the allegiance of the other characters and the audience’s attention. Both Ryan and Dillon recite their lines with a gentle reading that is both expressive and stately, as the roles demand. Frank Vindigni is an angry and vehement Elijah who modernizes the play just as it threatens to become too distant for any non-believers in the audience. Finally, Nicholas Kennedy is so intoxicatingly beautiful in appearance and outfitted with wings, it is easy to believe this is Archangel Michael emerging right here on 54th St. and Eighth Avenue.
This play successfully demonstrates that the battle between the urgency of finding redemption despite our flaws and our overwhelming desire for absolution, so central a conflict in Medieval Mystery plays, is not anything far removed from our own Internet age. The shortness of the play, with a running time of 45 minutes, is suited to our times. To see the battle of false prophesy and the emergence of a true Savior succeeding with a decisive battle for good is a satisfying theatrical experience. Would that we could be assured that our own brethren would take this lesson to heart so quickly and readily.