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The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord

From 18 critic and 139 member reviews
Members say: Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Clever, Ambitious, Slow

About the show

Primary Stages presents the NY premiere of this comedy in which three of history’s most famous men debate everything from religion to literature to marriage. More…

Thomas Jefferson (author of the Declaration of Independence), Charles Dickens (the man who brought us 'A Christmas Carol' and 'Oliver Twist'), and Count Leo Tolstoy (the epic Russian novelist of 'War and Peace' fame) are trapped in a limbo where each believes his path to salvation depends on convincing the other two that they are wrong. Tony-nominated director Kimberly Senior ('Disgraced') helms this battle of truly biblical proportions. Written by Scott Carter, the executive producer of 'Real Time with Bill Maher.'


"'Discord' is, when pared downed to its existential essence, nothing more than the title implies...There are laughs aplenty amidst the often stimulating haranguing, especially during the first half...The most highly charged and emotional segments deal with the contradictions in these men's lives and lifestyles that often decry their moral and ethical convictions...The play gets just a tad too dense and less purposefully epigrammatic...A visit with three such egotistical souls has much to offer." Full Review

The Wrap

"Carter has used his encyclopedic knowledge of Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy’s lives and written works to have his characters beat up on each other with erudite, dizzyingly delightful jabs...Under Kimberly Senior’s astute direction, there’s method in having an American founding father register as a bore...Egomaniacs that they are, the men of 'Discord' force each other to confront the hypocrisy at the core of their lives. It’s here that the symmetry of Carter’s play is thrown off." Full Review

Daily Beast

"This is not just a philosophical and intellectual fight night, but also one with many laughs and barbs along the way...The play is excellent at parsing the different beliefs and facts of the men’s lives and the clashing significances of their work and legacies, and yet you want some kind of theatrical jeopardy as to why they should be together and what could result of them being together in this strange celestial room. Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

“Carter has so much to say apparently, but sadly, takes far too much time getting to the point...Laurence as Jefferson and Sesma as Tolstoy are strong and believable in their characterizations, making us believe they are the souls of these serious men. Boutté, on the other hand, never really resonates as the flamboyant Dickens...Carter doesn’t have as much to say as he and we had hoped in the end...It’s diverting and amusing but leaves us unsatisfied.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"It was only at that point, about an hour in, that the play came to life for me and I stopped struggling to stay awake...Neither the humor nor the lofty discourse engaged me much. Maybe I nodded off for a crucial moment that would have made all the difference. I doubt it...That this play attracted a director the caliber of Kimberly Senior makes me wonder what she saw in it that I missed." Full Review


“Scott Carter's ‘The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord’ has an interesting premise. However, at 90 minutes and with almost no action, the play outstays its welcome. It has the potential for drama, but in this form it is mostly an intellectual debate on philosophical topics much of which are difficult to take in on a first hearing.” Full Review

The New York Times

"The surprises of this ambitiously conceived, modestly realized work are pretty much over once you’ve accepted its fanciful premise...Even when they’re over-emoting 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’s only so much variation that can be wrung on the common knowledge-confirming, music-hall characterizations of these men." Full Review


"Carter tempers his heady subject matter with lowbrow humor...Audiences looking for a debate of acid wit will be disappointed, especially as the play devolves into a group therapy session...Their soul-searching monologues are earnest and sincerely delivered by the performers, but they have the effect of making us feel like we're also in purgatory...Senior keeps the pain minimal with snappy pacing and straightforward design." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"There's no shortage of cerebral fodder. Unfortunately, however, Carter has forgotten to infuse his windy discourse with sufficient drama. As a result, it mostly feels like a clever thesis written by an ambitious graduate student...The playwright's extensive comedy background is on ample display during the first part of the play...Despite more than a few examples in which the dialogue truly stimulates, ‘Discord’ sags under its own intellectual weight." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"These three argue hotly with one another. They’re so contentious that they’re almost immediately alienating to each other as well as the ticket buyers. Worse, their conversation shortly becomes pointless...Late in the 85-minute gabfest, something pithy emerges...So Carter is insisting that—wait for this fresh surprise!—humankind is flawed, but that doesn’t preclude each of us from making important contributions...Under Senior’s steady direction, the actors do well at the incessant volatility." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"'Discord' 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...The audience learns nothing about these men they did not know before they entered the theatre...If biblical commentary and exegesis by old dead white men sounds interesting, then 'Discord' might be your ticket." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Given Carter's day job, working for one of television's most polarizing figures, the flatness of the enterprise is remarkable. There isn't a single witty or memorable line in the script. Kimberly Senior's production at least keeps things moving...Carter's script does little for any of its three protagonists, reducing them instead to a set of Wikipedia-ready character traits...Why throw these three figures together unless you can make us see them in a new light?" Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Has a title that lasts longer than its interest on stage...'Discord' unfolds in all the ways you’d expect it to, without ever providing a compelling explanation for what we’re all doing in a theater together...Each man here feels oversimplified to a central fixation...This apologia for the Problematic Great White Dead Dude is a turgid and unnecessary one...It takes more than a couple of Wikipedia articles to make a play." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“This outlandish premise, which might have been the trigger for a 10-minute 'SNL' sketch, is then stretched nine times beyond that boundary, with increasingly diminishing returns not helped by any of the overdone performances…If the playwright were able to raise the temperature to the heat of a Bill Maher political dispute he might have something going; instead, he gives us warmed over philosophical and theological sound bites spouted by personages played without an ounce of honest feeling.” Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"A play that attempts to merge religious argument and personal confessionals with outlandishly over-the-top performances opened tonight in a faltering and heavy-handed production...The whole thing comes off rather like a debate among unruly middle school students...This clumsily rendered production only manages to emphasize the play's inherent flaws, in which the big questions it poses are addressed only superficially in favor of way too much posturing and clowning." Full Review

Front Row Center

"The discussion becomes tedious. It is not banter, though there is laughter. It is not incisive, but not quite obvious either...It’s not thin soup so much as well short of cassoulet. The actors inhabiting the great men have precious little breathing space. The dialogue is dense with reference and the pace is fierce...But when it comes to wrapping it up—the meaning of life, what’s it all about Alfie? Crickets." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Carter's maddeningly dull 'Discord' is the play a college kid writes after reading 'No Exit' and wondering if people get—like really get—that faith is tricky...After a few confessions, delivered with maximum self-importance, the dead celebs pick up notepads and, as projected stage directions inform us, ‘write.’ What are they writing?...It's unclear, but at least it points to the end of the show: salvation and release, for them and for us." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"Everything about this show is problematic. Boutté’s Dickens is a caricature, while Laurence and Sesma underplay their roles. Ms. Senior’s direction makes this 85-minute play seem like an eternity and Mr. Carter’s play is an intellectual bore. This is definitely discord, but the question is whose?" Full Review

Intelligent, Absorbing, Riveting, Thought-provoking, Stoppard-esque

See it if you enjoy an occasional cerebral workout tantamount to cramming for an exam. My mind felt so refreshed, like a breeze swept the cobwebs.

Don't see it if You don't want to think about the piece during the show, or after. While it's brief, if intellectual sparring is not for you, skip it.

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Intelligent, Entertaining

See it if You enjoy stimulating theater

Don't see it if You don't enjoy theater that makes you think

Resonant, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Funny

See it if a night of repartee and introspection are your speed. There are lofty topics that are discussed, but they're grounded with humor.

Don't see it if taking a deep dive into history and religion isn't your cup of tea (the title should let you know what you're in for).

Great acting, Insightful, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Ambitious

See it if you'd like to learn more about three important historical figures and why their thoughts are still relevant today.

Don't see it if you can't handle some substance with your theater. It's not a fluffy evening.

Cliched, Thought-provoking, Profound, Intelligent, Absorbing

See it if you want to see a new and interesting side to people you've studied growing up; you are interested in academic theater

Don't see it if you want a play full of action rather than reflection; you know nothing about the three historical figures listed.

Great acting, Interesting theoretical debate

See it if you want to see some great acting especially by Dickens character

Don't see it if you don't like discourse that shows one's mentality & thinking

Quirky, Disappointing, Funny, Intelligent

See it if you like discourses and monologues on the bible and historical characters in odd situations.

Don't see it if you want to keep your opinions of the characters. if you don't like discussions of the bible.

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Clever

See it if you are a fan of either man, if you like shows that tickle your intellect, or if you like religious discussions. Minor weak slower parts.

Don't see it if you prefer shows with lighter themes, you do not like religious or introspective discourse or are not interested in either of these men.

Intense, Slow, Thought-provoking, Intelligent

See it if If you enjoy thought provoking plays that would compel you learn something

Don't see it if If you need to see some action in a play

Slow, Cliched, Disappointing, Indulgent, Clever

See it if you're an academic fan of any of the three title characters, curious as to how playwright gets them together, like rambling conversations

Don't see it if if lengthy conversations often about nothing bore you, want historical figures to be more dynamic, want more than just a glimpse of them

Take a teenager to see it

See it if Ambitious,entertaining but also tendentious, maybe boring for sophisticated adults, but just the thing to turn on inquisitive high schoolers

Don't see it if If are impatient with academic debates, looking for action or substantive theological debate. Or for new light on the historical characters

Also I’m sorry to have seen this so late in its run because it is a play I’... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if enjoy hearing different views on how to live your life and how religion plays into your actions

Don't see it if you want an action play and can not sit through conversations alone.

Profound, Intelligent, Great acting, Entertaining, Absorbing

See it if you want an interesting intellectual discourse; the interplay between the titular characters is both funny and intelligent

Don't see it if you want action, realism, or a true plot

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if Interesting concept, good performances. Asks good questions about moral issues. Attractively and minimally staged

Don't see it if Makes you work a bit. Might not interest those bored by historical figures or the Gospels.

Thought-provoking, Profound, Intense, Confusing, Ambitious

See it if you want to brush up on your philosophical thought and be utterly at the mercy of the playwright who is 3 steps ahead of you at all times.

Don't see it if you do not enjoy a challenge to your train of thought or would feel better with a musical.

Overrated, Ambitious, Funny, Interesting

See it if You enjoy watching philosophical ideas colliding with each other

Don't see it if You're annoyed when things aren't as profound as it thinks it is.

Thought-provoking, Great writing, Intelligent, Confusing, Clever

See it if you want to see great men from history debate religion and the gospel.

Don't see it if you need big staging and action. This is literally three men, a table, and two chairs.

Also As someone not familiar with the New Testament, I think I missed sever... Read more Read less

Fatiguing, Slow, Disappointing, Funny, Ambitious

See it if You like thought puzzling philosophical dramas involving death and religion.

Don't see it if You have a good book to read.

Pretentious, Disappointing

See it if you want to see a strange discussion of what the Bible should be as three writers of note babble all about it.

Don't see it if you don't like babbly plays that are nearly monologues.

Disappointing, Slow, Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Cliched

See it if You like any of these authors,are a fan of Biblical debates,don't know all that much about their personal lives

Don't see it if You don't like Biblical history, want an interesting storyline,

Also I was really excited to see this play and then sorely disappointed. It... Read more Read less


See it if You are given free tickets. It's not really worth paying. The incessant arguing onstage loses the audience quickly.

Don't see it if You don't mind ad nauseum existential arguments. Yawn.

Disappointing, Boring, Slow

See it if you like philosophical discussions. I found it excruciatingly dull and pompous. It's all talk, no plot, no character.

Don't see it if you can avoid it. Dull, pedantic, boring, repetitive.

Too clever for its own good............................

See it if you enjoy being in a room listening to “intellectuals” one upping each other.

Don't see it if you were expecting a meeting of the minds coming together by means of some time and space continuum for the purpose to debate each others.

Also Despite the interesting premise of having founding father Thomas Jeffe... Read more Read less

Talky, Intelligent, Disappointing

See it if you are interested in a debate about Jesus by historical personalities.

Don't see it if you are not interested in a debate about Jesus by historical personalities.

Also I had high hopes, but once the gimmick was played out, I was bored by ... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Disappointing, Indulgent, Overrated, Slow

See it if You enjoy learning about the lives of any of these men.

Don't see it if I was interested to see the personalities of these men, but their dialogue soon became tedious.

Cast & Creatives (11)