Home / Arts & Life / Review: Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy Debate Jesus. ‘Discord’ Ensues.

Review: Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy Debate Jesus. ‘Discord’ Ensues.

But the surprises of this ambitiously conceived, modestly realized work are pretty much over once you’ve accepted its fanciful premise. To wit: Jefferson (Michael Laurence), Dickens (Duane Boutté) and Tolstoy (Thom Sesma) have died and gone to… well, where exactly? The silver-toned room in which they have found themselves (Wilson Chin did the set) certainly doesn’t match any of their preconceptions of heaven or hell.

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Mr. Sesma, Mr. Boutté and Mr. Laurence, comparing notes on the bible in Scott Carter’s play.

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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Or what lies in between, which is presumably where they are. But why have these three, very different but equally egocentric people been brought together? Well, let’s see: one of them is a lesbian postal clerk, who lusts after a vacuous socialite, who in turn is flirting heavily with a macho journalist….

If only. Those are the characters from “No Exit,” the 1944 play by Jean-Paul Sartre that is obviously the structural model for “Discord,” folks whose philosophizing fractiousness is much missed here. Like that one-acter, Mr. Carter’s play asks its characters to look deep into their souls and admit their bad faith.

Their conclusion, expressed by Jefferson: “Not one of us is perfect.” Which leads to the play’s most intriguing (and, refreshingly, only implicit) point of argument: Does this imperfection diminish the stature of their accomplishments?

Before such reckoning, the lost souls of “Discord” must unpack their respective theories of the life of Jesus. While alive, these men created their own condensed (and utterly different) versions of the New Testament. They conclude that the path to redemption lies in their coming up with a single shared interpretation.

And so they quarrel, sometimes violently. Yet even when they’re over-emoting (or Dickens and Tolstoy are, anyway; Jefferson is of a more phlegmatic disposition) these characters seem to be mechanically ticking off boxes on a purgatory registration form, about not only their theories of Jesus but also their own hypocrisies.

There is little that’s revealed about their personal lives that couldn’t be extracted from Wikipedia entries. (Or Wikiquote: Dickens, after being stabbed by Tolstoy, says, “This is the worst of times!”) And there’s only so much variation that can be wrung on the common knowledge-confirming, music-hall characterizations of these men.

Mr. Carter is the executive producer of “Real Time With Bill Maher,” and has no doubt witnessed many an explosive and unexpected clash of personalities on that HBO talk show, in which pundits and politicians have notoriously gone off script. Unfortunately, the tintype cultural giants he has assembled onstage offer no such thrilling deviations.

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