Recommended **** Northlight Theatre’s production of “The Gospel according to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord” is one of the more interesting plays I’ve seen in a while. While I’ve seen other plays that put unlikely people together for a conversation, the conversations haven’t been anywhere near as intelligent. I was fascinated, so I give “The Gospel According to …” 4 Spotlights.
The set, a stark gray and white room furnished with a gray and white table and 2 gray and white chairs, is otherwise empty. The table has one locked drawer. There is only one door, which is locked. Above the room, there’s a message board, upon which scene numbers and names, for example, “Scene 4; They pace”, are projected.
Thomas Jefferson (Nathan Hosner) enters the room first. He looks around, can’t figure out where he is, tries to open the door, discovers it’s locked. He quickly figures out that he can’t get out of there and there’s nothing else to do, he sits down to wait.
Then the door opens and a man enters. He too goes through the above-mentioned routine, but then he sees Jefferson, whom he recognizes. He introduces himself as Charles Dickens (Jeff Parker), the greatest writer in Great Britain (he’s nothing if not modest), which of course means nothing to Jefferson, who died long before Dickens started writing.
When the door opens a third time, both Jefferson and Dickens yell at a Russian peasant coming through the door, telling him not to close it, but he roars something about not listening to anyone. When he’s also gone through the above-mentioned ritual, he recognizes both Jefferson and Dickens, neither of whom have any idea who he is. When he mentions that his name is Lev Tolstoy (Mark Montgomery), it means nothing to either of the other men.
Once they establish who they are, the three gentlemen try to figure out when and where they are. Being smart men, they quickly figure out that they’re dead, and in some kind of holding area. They’re not so sure what they need to do to get out. They pace, they talk, they sprawl on the furniture or the floor, they talk some more.
Dickens never misses a chance to drop one of his book titles or characters into the conversation. When Tolstoy reacts to everything question or comment with aristocratic arrogance, Dickens guesses that he had a title. Jefferson isn’t as volatile as the others and he never wrote books, so he’s not sure why he’s with them. As they toss around ideas, they begin to see that they have many things in common.
When they realize that each of three has written his own Gospel, the drawer in the table pops open to reveal a notebook and pen. Apparently, they’re supposed to reconcile the differences between their interpretation of the Gospel and the real thing. As each describes his interpretation, another (usually Jefferson) writes it down. The conversation is smart, erudite, self-aware, witty, revealing, and occasionally snarky.
“The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord” runs through June 12th at Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie.
Running time is 90 minutes, no intermission.
Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Fridays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays at 2:30 and 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:30 and 7:00 pm.
Tickets are $25-$79. Parking is free in the adjacent garage.
To order tickets call (847) 673-6300 or www.northlight.org.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord”