Feature photo: Charles McMahon as Count Leo Tolstoy, Gregory Isaac as Thomas Jefferson, and Brian McCann as Charles Dickens in Lantern Theater Company’s digital premiere of The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord by Scott Carter, directed by Armina LaManna and streaming on demand through December 19, 2021 at lanterntheater.org.
In this new take on the Lantern’s 2017 smash hit play, Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy find themselves locked in a room with no exit! It is Heaven? If so, why is it so cold! The stage set up makes it feel like you’re in a front row seat, practically on stage (in the room?!) with the trio as you’re drawn into The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord.
“What happens when we die? Turns out you just go to a room.” A shared room. A boarding house, says Dickens. Three Jonahs in a whales belly, considers Tolstoy. Why are they being tested, guided, tutored? Did they not live up to their own beliefs? Perhaps their fates have yet to be determined.
Playwright and former stand-up comic Scott Carter worked on this play over many years. A path of spiritual exploration following a nearly fatal asthma attack inspired him to create a piece of work based on his discovery that Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy all wrote their own gospels from existing biblical literature. Carter is a 24 time Emmy-nominee who produced and wrote for the first 18 seasons of Real Time with Bill Maher and worked on comedy products for networks like Comedy Central and TBS.
This play sounds a bit heavy, but within the first few minutes the characters meet and have some very witty one-liners as they argue about their lives and what they are doing there. This is also a way for the audience to get a quick recap on their achievements (the Lantern blog explores each figure even more). Overall, it’s an entertaining piece with exaggerated versions of real-life historic figures and I love how they poke fun at one another- and makes me wonder how other notable playwrights, presidents, or other icons would react to one another if thrown into a similar situation.
What you see in front of you is a reimagining of the 2017 original production. Performers Gregory Isaac and Brian McCann (as Thomas Jefferson and Charles Dickens, respectively) reprise their roles. Lantern’s Artistic Director Charles McMahon plays Tolstoy.
For 82 minutes, sins will be exposed and attempted to be justified. Truths (and half truths) are discussed. Lives spilled onto the single desk in the room as the trio tries to come to terms with their surroundings. Gregory Isaac is so convincing, especially when Jefferson speaks of his beloved wife Martha and how he unravels after her death. This scene in particular is powerful, especially with following dialogue from Brian McCann. I enjoyed watching McMahon as Tolstoy throughout and the perfect chemistry he has with the other performers. So much so that at times, I had to think “this all didn’t really happen, right?” Everyone is so believable in their roles.
Was the world better off for our having lived? The last few minutes of the show are intense, although not much actual action takes place on stage. You’ll be left wondering what information each character let loose and what ultimately could set them free. What could set each one of us free? The performance is a must-see that will make you want to grab a glass of wine and discuss afterwards. It’s very dialogue driven with a lot of emotion.
Take a break from holiday hustle and bustle this weekend, lock yourself in your living room, grab a blanket and enjoy this new piece of theatre from Lantern Theatre Company. You only have until December 19th, so get your ticket here for $20 per household! A Digital Dickens Pass is also available for $35 which includes a ticket for The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord and the filmed version of Lantern’s original production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (streaming now through January 2, 2022). A Christmas Carol can be seen in-person as well through 12/30 at The Drake. Lantern is also currently streaming the world premiere of Me and the Devil through February 27th. Their upcoming in-person performance of Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine will begin on January 20th. For info and tickets about these performances and more this season, click here.