IOWA CITY — First, he called director Adam Knight out of the blue Jan. 21 to chat and answer questions about his play that would have its Iowa premiere Jan. 25.
Then he sent cupcakes for opening night.
And now, Scott Carter, executive producer and writer for television’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “Politically Incorrect,” is flying from Los Angeles to Iowa City to see Riverside Theatre’s production of “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord.” He also will lead audience talkbacks after the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon performances.
Carter’s play imagines an afterlife in which Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy are locked in a room with no escape. Are they in heaven, hell or some great in-between? It doesn’t take long for them figure out that they’ve each written their own interpretation of the biblical Gospel stories — but from three wildly differing dogmas. That’s where the discord sets in, as they unravel their own histories and mysteries in search of a common ground that will set them free.
After speaking with Carter, Knight restaged the show’s reflection scene to follow the playwright’s intention of giving the audience space to examine their own lives.
“I realized I was focusing too much on the prosecution and not enough on the reflection,” Knight said. “That kind of conversation between a writer and director is really what I love about theater. It’s collaboration that improves the art.”
Having Carter attend the show adds yet another layer of reflection.
“This is the 21st production of the show,” Knight said. “It really speaks to him as a writer and it also speaks to the caliber of art that’s happening here in Iowa City, at Riverside. He had heard great things about the production, and that the conversations were carrying on well after the show ended, and that was very exciting to him. That’s exactly what he wants the play to do, and he wanted to experience it for himself and get to know our work. ...
“It reminds the actors that we’re not just doing a production other people have done before, but what we’re doing here is special and present, and our art is unique here.”
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During his weekend visit, Carter will meet with the cast and production team, as well as the public. Audience members are invited to stay for the post-show talkbacks, and any empty seats will be open to non-ticketholders, for free.
Those sessions “directly relate to Riverside’s mission of connecting artists and audiences,” Knight said, “especially for a play like this, that’s so much about ideas and so much about debates. For us to give our audiences the chance to go directly to the source is a really exciting opportunity.”
Knight also is looking forward to showing Carter “what Iowa City has to offer. He’s never been here before, and I’m excited about introducing him to the things that brought me here in the first place, which was the vibrant, intellectual community, and a place where great art is happening.”
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IF YOU GO
What: “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord”
Where: Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City
When: To Feb. 10; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $10 to $30 adults; Riverside Box Office, (319) 338-7672 or Riversidetheatre.org
Extra: Post-show talk-backs with playwright Scott Carter this weekend, beginning around 9 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday; free and open to public on space-available basis