Off-Broadway Review: “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord”

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic / Outer Critics Circle

Members of the Primary Stages staff, prior to curtain, passed through the audience asking members to “select a button” based on who we thought would “win” the discordant discourse: Jefferson, Dickens, or Tolstoy – the three characters appearing in Scott Carters “Discord” currently running at Primary Stages. Further instructions included the option to change one’s mind after the play and select a different button, or return the button originally chosen leaving the theatre button-empty-handed.  Audience members either stared back puzzled, made a conscious decision about the “winner” and selected the corresponding button, or grabbed all three to add to their growing button collection.

Those with the puzzled stare – with or without buttons – were the winners here since “Discord” itself is a puzzling entity with little to offer other than three fine performers grasping at lines of script as they too easily slipped through their fingers onto the theater floor. Duane Boutté, as “Charles Dickens,” Michael Laurence as “Thomas Jefferson,” and Thom Sesma as “Leo Tolstoy find themselves locked in what they soon discover is a “room” in Heaven – not even a “room of one’s own quips Dickens with nary a nod to Virginia Woolf. But who’s afraid of her anyway (with a nod to Edward Albee).

Playwright Scott Carter has these three giants of men (could there not have been a Virginia Woolf) settle their differences by writing their own gospel and the defending its contents. The bulk of the script – particularly in the beginning – is massive sections of the King James Bible quoted, retold, reimagined, and regurgitated ultimately to the mirrored wall of the room where the characters’ “defenses” result in walls of self-examination, self-recrimination, and heavy doses of guilt. The audience learns nothing about these men they did not know before they entered the theatre. Guess what Thomas Jefferson’s greatest sin was? Right!

If biblical commentary and exegesis by old dead white men sounds interesting, then “Discord” might be your ticket. Otherwise, make that perhaps overdue visit to church, temple, or mosque and revisit the origins of humankind’s journeys of faith. And talk to a friend about what you discovered. And then – write a play.



The cast of “Discord” features Duane Boutté, as “Charles Dickens,” Michael Laurence as “Thomas Jefferson,” and Thom Sesma as “Leo Tolstoy.”

The production features set design by Wilson Chin; costume design by David Hyman; lighting design by Jen Schriever; sound design by Lindsay Jones; projection design by Caite Hevner; and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

Performances of “Discord” take place at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce St, New York, NY 10014) for a limited engagement through Sunday, October 22, 2017. For the complete performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Michael Laurence, Thom Sesma and Duane Boutte in the Primary Stages production of “Discord.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.