History, Faith and Hypocrisy in Westwood: DIscord at the GeffenJanuary 2, 2015
Throughout time there have been great writers and philosophers who could talk the talk but not walk the walk. These brilliant thinkers could write movingly about freedom, slavery and love of family. Unfortunately, their own lives offer poor examples of their ideas in action. Discord, a play dealing with the gulf between words and deeds, recently wrapped up its run at the Geffen Theatre in Westwood. This dramatization of the meeting of three great minds was a thoughtful, involving piece of entertainment. There are excellent prospects for further performances of the play, including on Broadway. If it comes to your town do yourself a favor and check it out.
The play takes a simple if metahistorical approach to drama. In a plain white room somewhere in the afterlife, Charles Dickens (played by David Melville) strides in through the door. He is mystified as to how he got there, but cannot open the door. Soon a second visitor enters: Thomas Jefferson (Larry Cedar). The two men begin quarreling almost immediately. Shortly the third member of this group arrives, Leo Tolstoy (Armin Shimerman). As the member of the trio whose life was the latest, Tolstoy is intimately familiar with both other men and their writings. He is also aware of their failings as well.
Dickens created memorable child characters and was upheld as a paragon of fatherly virtue, yet he maintained a long-running affair and eventually left his family for his mistress. Jefferson wrote so movingly on freedom from tyranny yet he not only owned slaves but (unlike other Southerners such as George Washington) did not arrange for their freedom in his will. Even worse, he fathered children with one of his slaves in a relationship that could be considered love or rape. Tolstoy has his own shortcomings: a nervous breakdown as a young man led him on a decades-long spiritual quest that influenced his novels, yet he could not live the simple life he extolled.
The play forces each character to confront his own version of faith and to square it with the inconsistencies of his own life. Tolstoy’s earthiness contrasts with Dickens’ old-fashioned view of a benevolent God and Jefferson’s view of a Deity that stepped back to allow people to make their own decisions. Their writings shaped their beliefs but now each must confront their own inner demons. Being prolific writers they can find only one way through their disagreements: through the pen. They write and search anew for answers.
After the show, playwright Scott Carter held a question & answer session with Cedar and Shimerman. Each spoke of their own attempts to make sense of their own beliefs while understanding those of their characters. Carter uses his day job as a producer on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher to shape the play in a way that is never boring even though it must rely on the power of its ideas instead of melodrama. This striving to bring understanding to confusing issues makes Discord a worthwhile experience.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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