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The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord or The Guilt of The Masses

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord or The Guilt of The Masses
Michael Laurence, Thom Sesma, Duane Boutté

Michael Laurence plays Thomas Jefferson, Thom Sesma plays Leo Tolstoy, and Duane Boutté plays Charles Dickens in Scott Carter’s Discord at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

I am so sick of being told I need to feel guilty over slavery. I am neither Catholic nor Jewish, and I do not have this guilt over crimes I nor my forefathers that I know of committed. Before entering the Cherry Lane Theatre, we are asked to pick the side of Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, or Leo Tolstoy and we are told we may change it after seeing The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord. Being a writer, I naturally picked Charles Dickens. They were right, I would change my side, but not for the reasons they thought.

This “comedy” by Scott Carter, executive producer of “Real Time with Bill Maher”, is like a literary No Exit without the sexual tension. Here these three historical figures find themselves in limbo, neither dead nor alive. They are in Wilson Chin’s sterile room with a metal table and two chairs. Above them is a projection of some kind of firmament or “Don’t close the door!”, which of course they all do, trapping themselves in this vocal vomit against wits. Now, this could have been great, except it is never explained why Jefferson (Michael Laurence), who died in 1826, is in the same room with Dickens (Duane Boutté), who died in 1870 and Tolstoy (Thom Sesma), who died in 1910.

Each is vastly different. Jefferson is somber, Dickens is annoyingly egotistical, and Tolstoy is filled with rage. I actually wanted to cheer when Tolstoy stabbed Dickens to death. Unfortunately, Dickens came back to “life”, for, after all, he was already dead.

When our historical figures finally figure out what they have in common, we learn each created their own bible, so they assume they have been brought together to create a gospel incorporating their shared beliefs. But due to their personalities, they cannot even agree on the beginning. Dickens declares it is word, Tolstoy believes it must have been spirit, and to the logical Jefferson, it must be reason.

To break up the time frame, director Kimberly Senior has the men pace, lie down, has the table and chairs mysteriously move and the mens’ positions alter.

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

Next, each confesses their personal sins. Dickens, who just seemed flamboyantly effeminate in Boutté characterization, confesses his marital breakdown and affairs with his wife’s sisters. Not exactly believable. Tolstoy also had affairs but was cruel to his wife while nice to the peasants. Jefferson states he treated his slaves as family. Dickens goes off on Jefferson for not freeing his slaves. Jefferson replies, “Had I emancipated them, who then would shoe my horse? Or cook my meals? I could not live without books. Or wines. Or other comforts. Thus, in my pursuit of happiness, I kept my slaves.” Dickens goes off on him again and in this production Dickens’ is African American, so the tirade seems more of a manipulation than a statement of fact.

In the end, each man is given a pad of paper in which they write and write, thus being released.

Everything about this show is problematic. Boutté’s Dickens is a caricature, while Laurence and Sesma underplay their roles. Ms. Senior’s direction makes this 85-minute play seem like an eternity and Mr. Carter’s play is an intellectual bore. This is definitely discord, but the question is whose?

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord: Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St. until Oct. 22nd

 

Off Broadway

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

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