The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: “Discord” was written by Scott Carter, executive producer and writer for Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect and Real Time.” This whip-smart philosophical comedy features Larry Cedar (Deadwood, PBS’s Square One TV), David Melville (Travel Channel Lawrence of America, film Ironclad) and Armin Shimerman (Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Associate Artistic Director at The Antaeus Company).
Produced at the NoHo Arts Center last January to rave reviews, this new comedy is based on the historical fact that Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy all wrote, or re-wrote their own versions of the Bible. Again helmed by director, Matt August, “Discord” brings these three great thinkers together in a room which appears to be a holding cell for heaven. They enter according to the time period in which they lived: first Jefferson, then Dickens, and finally Tolstoy. When each enters through the only door, it closes and locks, blocking the only way out. Thus begins their examination of why they have been brought together, what they could possibly have in common, and how can they possibly escape? It’s a blistering battle of wits for the ages.
In order to recount the examination of the lives of a founding father, a Victorian novelist, and a Russian revolutionary, director Matt August along with casting director Michael Donovan, assembled a brilliant cast, each of whom fully embody the mind, body and spirit of their characters. Larry Cedar presents the redheaded Thomas Jefferson as both country farmer and world-renowned politico by the simplest of shifts in his walk, mannerisms, and posture. It is very apparent he is always listening to every word being said, always focused on the others and never wavering in his examination of his own mind. He is a man of reason, the emotional rock off of which the other two men jump to conclusions.
David Melville is the flashy Charles Dickens, dressed to the Victorian hilt in red tails and splendid double-toned shoes. At times, he seems to be channeling Oscar Wilde, completely over the top which no doubt was the fashion of his time. He shares Dickens restless spirit by constantly pacing and circling the central table in the austere room. The scene in which he describes the miracles in the Bible to his children was probably the most entertaining of the play with Melville prancing around and thoroughly ruffling Jefferson’s feathers. The humor generated hearty laughs, especially during the debate between faith versus reason. And of course, Dickens constantly throws in quotes from his many novels, often generating knowing laughs from audience members.
Armin Shimerman is a wonder as Count Leo Tolstoy, dressed in peasant clothes, knee boots, with a full beard and matted hair. Often turning away from the others as he listens to their comments, he seems controlled until he is pushed a bit too far and reacts violently. Shimerman allows us to see the anger boiling under the surface at all times, especially when his more modern take on the gospels, the main topic of their discussion, is challenged by the other men.
“Discord” runs 85 minutes without an intermission and requires the audience to pay attention as much as possible since every word spoken reveals much about the characters and the reasons they have been brought together to examine their beliefs and lives. You will learn much historical fact and come away knowing the truth will always set you free.
The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: “Discord” continues at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024 through Nov. 23. Dark on Mondays with performances on Tuesday- Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.. Matinees on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets are available inperson at the Geffen Playhouse box office, via phone at 310.208.5454 or online at www.gef fenplayhouse.com.