The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord Review - Northlight does it again!

Montgomery, Hosner, Parker

"Why are we here?" "Is the world better for us having lived?" These are the questions that three legendary figures-Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy- wrestle with in "The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord," making its Midwest debut at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

 

On a set bearing some resemblance to an interrogation room ­­--metal table, two chairs, gray walls, 4th wall which holds a mirror and no way out--these three men struggle to figure out the purpose that has brought them together, alternating between quiet self-reflection and violence toward each other.

Dickens quips, “The eternal question: What happens when we die? Turns out you just go to a room."

Montgomery, Hosner and Parker

 

They discover they were all "gospelists" each having written their own version of the Bible. Jefferson's version was based on the idea that reason governed human conduct; he believed the existing scripture was filled with "ignorance and lies."  Jefferson quips, "the virgin birth doesn't belong in the Bible. It belongs in Mother Goose."

 

Dickens, on the other hand, firmly believed in miracles, including the virgin birth. Ever the novelist, he said  the stories needed to "sparkle" in order to convince the skeptics. Tolstoy, on the other hand, was about morality and Christ's teachings, living a life of simplicity.

Hosner, Montgomery and Parker

Deciding that perhaps they were brought together to turn their three tomes into one, they spend much of the play hotly debating their positions. Tolstoy who idolized Dickens as a writer doesn't agree with much of anything Dickens believes, lamenting "Turns out my hero's an idiot!" These enormous egos are clearly unused to and unwilling to yield, even now.

 

Though we first meet their public personas, Jefferson the statesman, Dickens the family loving compassionate man, and Tolstoy who espoused the simple peasant life, over the course of 90 minutes, the layers are peeled back to the men beneath the myths.

Montgomery, Hosner, Parker on table

We learn that Dickens was perpetually unfaithful to his wife, "hated the domestic hearth," and if a character had been "dull, clumsy and fat" in a novel, he would've killed her off.

 

Jefferson, when confronted with how he squared owning 600 slaves and having a child with one of them with his views of freedom responds almost incredulously, "but where would they go?" Tolstoy too, admits he was a "dirty old fornicator" who, like Jefferson never emancipated his peasants.

Hosner, Montgomery and Parker

 

Dickens admits that his most famous character Scrooge had learned to keep Christmas and he himself could not. Tolstoy could keep neither the Five Commandments nor the original ten. Finally, laid bare to themselves and to each other, the three men get down to business and write. And write. And write.

 

Discord is beautifully cast. Nathan Hosner is brilliant as the Southern statesman Jefferson, Mark Montgomery brings Tolstoy's passion bursting to life, and Jeff Parker's Dickens is simply delightful. Scott Carter, compelled to write this story after wrestling with his own near death experience and existential examination, is executive producer for HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” and previously produced over 1,000 episodes of Maher’s “Politically Incorrect.”

 

Discord runs through June 12 at the Northlight Theatre 9501 Skokie Blvd. Performances are Wednesday at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.00 to $75.00. Call the box office at 847 673 6300 or visit the Northlight website

Photos courtesy of Michael Brosilow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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