Who knew Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy created their own Bibles? Playwright Scott Carter did as he learned about these extraordinary creations during his 20 plus year odyssey to write “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord” now performing in its world premiere at the NoHo Arts Center. Directed by Matt August this thought-provoking, very funny and engaging play is a philosophical marvel. As the response of an appreciative opening night audience demonstrated, this show offers a stimulating and satisfying evening of theater.
Bending time, one-by-one Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy walk through a door into a blindingly bright, sparsely furnished room at the point of their deaths. For the next 90-minutes these great intellects discuss and debate philosophical issues including why they are trapped in this room, how they got there and their discordant interpretations of the Bible.
Jefferson, well-played by Larry Cedar, maintains an aristocratic air as he describes his achievements including his own cut-and-paste version of The Gospel. David Melville, as a theatrically dressed Dickens, readily proclaims his brilliance, as well as his representation of family values. Not surprisingly, his version of the Bible, created for the first five of his 10 children, emphasized the miracles and dramatic storytelling of the New Testament. Armin Shimerman perfectly captures Tolstoy’s Russian temperament. He eschewed his royal title to live as a peasant and learned Greek so he could translate the human story of Jesus from the original text.
Program notes, among the best ever, include an Intersecting Lives crossword puzzle, the history of how this play came to be written by Carter, and a page of salient quotes, including “If you over-esteem great men, people become powerless,” from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching, expand and enrich the whole experience of this one-act journey.
Minimalist scenic design by Takeshi Kata, effective lighting design by Luke Moyer, atmospheric sound design by Cricket S. Myers and whimsical projection design by Jeffrey Elias Teeter are wonderfully executed. Anne Closs-Farley’s costumes are sublime.
While this play involves heavy discourse, it also offers many moments of laugh-out-loud humor. Aficionados of Jefferson, Dickens and/or Tolstoy will find much to delight them and anyone who enjoys a lively philosophical discussion is in for a treat. Audiences are not likely to find a more literate and thought-provoking production currently playing in the L.A. area. Go!
“The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord” performs 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through Sunday, February 23. Tickets are $35, $25 previews, students and seniors. Call 818-508-7101 ext. 6 or visit www.nohoace.com. Group rates are available.
The NoHo Arts Center is located at 11136 Magnolia Blvd. (at Lankershim) in North Hollywood.
For more information about the play visit www.jdtproject.com.