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The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord – Open That Door!

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord – Open That Door!
Michael Laurence, Thom Sesma, Duane Boutté

Charles Dickens (Duane Boutté) tells his version of the Gospel to Thomas Jefferson (Michael Laurence) and Leo Tolstoy (Thom Sesma) in Discord.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

“In the beginning”…Scott Carter, the playwright of the new play at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre with the longest title of the season, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, had an idea. Carter (executive producer and writer for “Real Time With Bill Maher“) wanted to explore religion and spirituality using the self curated Gospels of these three great men as a catalyst for this spiritual journey. A reckoning and questioning of the status quo and the bold truth through their eyes, and Carter sure knows how to pontificate on the subject of Jesus and the history surrounding these three famous gentleman. He has so much to say apparently, but sadly, takes far too much time getting to the point. So let me try to do quite the opposite.

One at a time, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Charles Dickens (1812-1870), and Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) find themselves coming through a door into a very plain room that reeks of purgatory and a surreal dimension.  It’s brightly light and sparsely furnished, with scenic design by Wilson Chin (Berkeley Rep’s Aubergine); costumes by David Hyman (PH’s The Treasurer); lighting by Jen Schriever (Broadway’s Eclipsed) with just two chairs and one table and no clear reason for them being there. They have died, this they are aware, and although the years don’t match up, time is irrelevant. One by one, they enter, look around, try to make sense of the situation, and attempt to leave only to find that they are locked in.

There are projections, designed by Caite Hevner (In Transit) and original music and sound by  Lindsay Jones (Public’s Privacy), that add to the drama.  The phrases are only seen by us, reminding me somewhat of the chapters of character-focus in the much better and more precise play, The Doll’s House, Part 2. The writings on the wall give us comical hints and guidance about what’s happening and what is to come. It tells us, “Don’t Close The Door”, but no one abides by that instruction. It also sheds light that these dead souls are “Three Jonahs” in a whale’s belly, and “Dead as Doornails”.  With those clues, we get the picture quite quickly, far faster than the three wise men do.  Squabbling narcissistically, Jefferson (Michael Laurence), Dickens (Duane Boutté) and Tolstoy (Thom Sesma) search and try to ascertain why they are in this room together, and what is the existential purpose. Laurence (Braodway’s Talk Radio) as Jefferson and Sesma (CSC’s Pacific Overtures) as Tolstoy are strong and believable in their characterizations, making us believe they are the souls of these serious men. Boutté (Lincoln Center’s Parade) on the other hand, never really resonates as the flamboyant Dickens. He’s hard to understand his spirited speech and to see as this famous British author. But together, the egotistical three must figure out what they need to do on this day of reckoning in order to save themselves from being trapped in this room pacing for eternity. And if they do, they hope to be granted freedom from this confinement and move beyond. Beyond to what? That’s another question that doesn’t appear to be asked in this slight metaphysical play. 

In many ways, I think the director, Kimberly Senior (LCT3’s Disgraced) has some of the same questions to figure out and answer for us.  One of the main ones, is whether there is enough to say by these three philosophers that is captivating enough for this 90 minute play. They speak and speak, clarifying their positions on God and religion but I wonder, are they speaking more out of fear that we might get to the end too quickly, and find out that Carter doesn’t have as much to say as he and we had hoped in the end. “Tales must sparkle,” Dickens insists, but rarely does the play’s bigger picture come close. It’s diverting and amusing but leaves us unsatisfied when the door finally pops open. In some ways, we are just as glad as they are.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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