'Discord' sure to spark conversation

'Discord' sure to spark conversation

In his 1944 play “No Exit,” French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre observed that “Hell is other people.” Clearly, contemporary playwright Scott Carter agrees and sets forth to illustrate the point in his awkwardly named yet brilliant exploration, “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord.” The Celebration Company production is currently playing at the Station Theatre in Urbana.

In this fascinating cerebral meandering, Carter places three iconic historical figures in purgatory for reasons which are not immediately clear. After exchanging superficial pleasantries, the three titular characters grow increasingly frustrated with one another until they finally surmise that the common thread for each is their own understanding of the story of Jesus Christ.

In their lifetimes, each had interpreted and authored their own set of gospels based on their own beliefs, each with a smattering, here or there, of the text adhered to by the masses.

What follows is a riddle for the ages, really, as many over time question the meaning of life, ponder the truths in their spirituality and hunger for clarity as to their given purpose.

As a theatrical piece, this one will speak to each audience member personally, igniting thoughts, sparking conversation ... and it will linger.  Does it get any better than that?

In her directorial debut, the talented Lindsey Gates-Markel strikes gold with her powerful and gifted cast.

Steven M. Keen, a company member since 1979, is Thomas Jefferson, a man of reason. Gary Ambler, also a veteran company member, is Charles Dickens and  David Barkley is Tolstoy.

Malia Andrus’ costume design is perfection, giving each an irrefutable connection to the pillars they portray (though arguably, these three gentleman could move an audience dressed in rags.)

I found each performance exquisite in its execution. Dickens in Ambler’s hands is delightfully pompous, Barkley’s Tolstoy is both proud and humble, following his own moral crisis, and Keen’s Jefferson is weary and reflective.

The production is well-paced, with exceptional lighting and projection design by Jesse Folks and music and sound by Larry E. Gates II.

As the final show for the Celebration Company’s season, this production speaks well for the quality of work audiences have embraced in this special venue for decades. The dedicated members of the craft make magic happen here. Don’t miss it.

Tricia Stiller serves as director for the McLean County Diversity Project’s Theatre Program, the Miller Park Summer Theatre Program and the Penguin Project McLean County. She can be contacted at triciastiller@msn.com.

If you go

What: The Celebration Company presents “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord,” written by Scott Carter and directed by Lindsey Gates-Markel, starring Gary Ambler, Steven Keen and David Barkley.
When: 8 p.m. through May 7.
Where: Station Theatre, 223 N. Broadway, U.
Tickets: $10 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $15 on Fridays and Saturdays.
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission.
Reservations: 384-4000 or station theatre.com.
Note: Free parking is available across the street, courtesy of Save-a-Lot.