“The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy: Discord” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ May 9, 2016


Stage West, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Theatre Company consistently delivers the Valley’s best theater by bringing in the best actors, hiring gifted directors, and utilizing brilliant designers.  Often they pick winning new and classic plays with artfully crafted stories told by sharply developed characters who present plausible life themes.  Occasionally, new, untried works slip in that haven’t been properly developed and polished.  Such is the case with ATC’s season finale, “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord” that places the historic characters in a room without an exit where they debate their faiths and beliefs.

Arizona playwright Scott Carter’s play rambles on with no great revelations.  It’s not a surprise that the characters have dissimilar feelings and thoughts about these important issues.  They are from different societies and historic periods.  As each generation expands its thinking on these issues, personal ideas and reactions change.  Few details of each man’s thoughts are exposed and since the men are so well known as are the ideas, the discussions prove bland.

Trapped in the exitless room, the play gets didactic causing a squirmy audience that reacts with wonder about how long this static talky debate can transpire.  The script confines the action to characters roaming around aimlessly as they each try unsuccessfully to change the other men’s thinking.

There’s nothing wrong with the three superb actors who portray these men.  Larry Cedar’s feet-on-the-ground Thomas Jefferson is the deepest thinker and the most intellectually stimulating character.  Mark Gagliardi’s egomaniacal Charles Dickens prides himself on his writings as he constantly cites “A Christmas Carol” and Scrooge as if this play and character were his only contributions.  Armin Shimerman’s stodgy Count Leo Tolstoy conveys the author’s languid approach to life.  As strong as these performances are, the play doesn’t allow you to get to know or care about these important men.

There’s nothing in “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy: Discord” to keep the audience interested in the characters opinions or ideas.  It earns three stars out of five only because of the superb acting performances.  It continues through May 29 at the smaller Herberger Theater Center venue where there were many empty seats opening night.  For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: C