Waiting for the End of the World

Book By: John Shanahan
Play #: 2560
Pages: 16 pgs
Cast: 2 m, 1 w

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse gather in a park to usher in the start of Armageddon. But Famine's running late and isn't answering his cell phone. Should the other three kick off the end of the world anyway? What will happen if they do? Or do they need to wait for their fourth member to maintain proper symmetry? Well, at least there are chicken fingers... 


About 30 minutes. This show contains adult language.  Substitutions are permitted.

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Performance beginning date


BIGFORK, MN 4/24/2024
CALMAR, CANADA 4/19/2024
TAMPA, FL 4/19/2024
BIGFORK, MN 4/18/2024
EDSON, CANADA 4/15/2024
BHS DRAMA 3 Performance(s)
BURLINGTON, VT 2/16/2024
GW COMMUNITY SCHOOL 1 Performance(s)
SPRINGFIELD, VA 12/12/2023
METUCHEN, NJ 11/3/2023

Behind The Scenes

With John Shanahan


What inspired you to write this play?

I honestly wish I could remember. I wrote this in 2004 when my playwriting was the focus of my creative energies. I’ve always had a fascination with humanizing and anthropomorphizing imaginary characters or mythical figures or things that are more aspects or constructs than people. And then I ask myself how I can make them uniquely mine. What spin can I put on them that people won’t expect, and how can I use that to deliver a message? Somewhere along the line, my head landed on the Four Horsemen, and what came of it is one of my favorite pieces of everything I’ve written. I don't normally act in things I write, but I've played Death twice and had a blast.


What's your favorite part or line in the play?  Why?

I just love the relationship between the characters. They’re coworkers, basically. They understand that they’re cut from the same cloth, that they exist only to be fearful and await Armageddon. They do their jobs separately, aware of each others’ work, but they’re all waiting for this day. They more or less respect each other, but they also have their differences, as we see. The dynamic between each pair of them—War and Pestilence, Pestilence and Death, Death and War—all play out with their own subtle nuances. 


Where did the characters come from? Are they based on people you know?

Obviously, these three stem from the Bible, but they’re my spin on them. Death, usually seen as fearful and skeletal, is just tired and overworked. It would have been easy to write a Pestilence that was coughing and wheezing sickly the whole time but my logic is, if you create all the diseases, you don’t get them. War is the one I get questioned about most often, and the question is always: why is War a woman? Two things: it’s my way of twisting what the normal perception of the personification of War might be; nothing’s normal in this play. More importantly, men start wars over women—to woo them, to impress them, to show them how manly they are. In short, think Helen of Troy, whose beauty set the topless towers of Ilium to burn. That’s why War is a woman.


What did you try to achieve with this play?

I always start out just trying to entertain myself and see where the idea takes me—just have fun. As I got into this, though, I realized the underlying theme of this play is about how we, as simple humans, don’t really know what’s coming next. We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, cosmically speaking. Sometimes we like to think we do, but do we really? The point here is that Armageddon can get started in a lovely park, by a few people who just look like…other people. So while I wanted it to be funny, there’s a slightly sinister air to the piece. It’s not a black comedy, but it’s certainly got its share of pretty dark grey.


Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

Putting chicken fingers in this play was, I think, the first instance in my playwriting where something that was meant to be a simple joke revealed itself later to have more importance, or at least functionality. To me, the idea of having one of the Four Horsemen stop off before Armageddon to get some chicken fingers was funny in and of itself. At first, that was all it was. Just that visual joke. Then it gave me Pestilence’s line about how many awful things he can inflict on the world with a chicken finger. At the time I wrote that line, all it existed for was to be a setup for War saying, “Yes, and I try not to think about it when I’m eating.” Later, it also helped me find the joke about Death being a vegetarian. I thought that was certainly enough, but when I got to the end and I needed to find a good way to wrap it all up, there were the chicken fingers again, and a way to echo back to Pestilence’s line about the awful afflictions. Just like that, the prop that had started off as a joke came back to tie everything together. Short version being: keep an eye on the little “stage business” things or gags you write into your script—they might grow into something more interesting.