DISCORD—The Gospel According to Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy
Jeff Parker (Dickens), Nathan Hosner (Jefferson), and Mark Montgomery (Tolstoy). Photo by Michael Brosilow.
There is quite a bit of harmony in DISCORD, Northlight’ 41st season closer: an intellectual discourse between three historical giants while they dissect theological and philosophical ideas accompanied by a dynamic mixture of highbrow and lowbrow humor. Beyond the massive amount of research that obviously went into this production, beyond weaving trivia in and out of the scenes of a unique predicament, lays the smarts of one of the best in its genre: the hypothetical existential conversation among figures of note. The topic: the life of Jesus Christ.
In the beginning, there was a clean slate space that emulated a focus-group-squeaky-gray-clean which, not incidentally, resembled an interrogation room, equipped with its 4th wall one-way mirror and designed by Jack Magaw, to a great service for its context. The only door opens and shuts behind its first occupant, The Sage of Monticello, The Apostle of Democracy, the third president of The United States, Thomas Jefferson. A performance remarkably true to what you would expect Jefferson to be—a reasonable, composed well-spoken individual—and flawlessly executed by Nathan Hosner, down to the colonial accent and the subtle gentlemanly charm. The crux of his gospel: the reasonable philosophy of Jesus’ teachings.
In enters Charles Dickens—a surprising interpretation by Jeff Parker, but so delightfully and effortlessly performed, that all other versions of the literary giant fade from memory. Were any of them ostentatious, insecure, funny and so darn affable? Because this Dickens was—and much to his favor—as he attempted to sell us on his gospel: the fantastical version of Jesus and his miracles as is being mostly told in Sunday School Bible studies across the world.
It was only right that the playing field was leveled/complicated by a third man, much like in the rules of clowning, in which a high-status and a low-status need an eccentric to fix/break everything. Welcome Count Leo Tolstoy to the party. Mark Montgomery’s portrayal brings a wild card unpredictability to the role that serves the character quite well, especially considering the arduous task of channeling a titan of Russian culture. His version of the story: the pragmatic teachings of Jesus stripped away from all the mumbo-jumbo of the Orthodox Bible.
In their endeavor to write the truest gospel, the three examine the purpose of man, God and their own earthly sins. Sometimes they tread into caricature waters (ahem, Tolstoy), but the sharp intellectual conversation doesn’t disappoint as both humor and discovery find their way in Kimberly Senior’s intelligent staging. Nan Zabriskie clad all three men straight out of the books we read about them, like characters from different fairy tales allowed to carry nothing into the “real” world but the clothes on their back and the wits in their noggins.
Scott Carter has written a brilliant hypothetical exchange. Jefferson remarked that if you want to make Christians mad, quote Jesus, beautifully summing up the sentiment of what God stands for before religion came along to screw it all up. So in the same vein, here’s a quote from across denominations, a true lesson, the one and only golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” -Jesus Christ.
May 18, 2016