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Thom Sesma, Michael Laurence and Duane Boutte in Primary Stages' production of DISCORD - photo by Jeremy Daniel

Kimberly Senior isn’t afraid to tackle tough topics. The Chicago based director earned critical raves for her guiding hand in the racially charged Broadway play, Disgraced.  She also dealt with the delicate topic of self-slaughter in Chris Gethard’s solo show/sleeper hit, Career Suicide.

Senior is currently in New York City and has turned her attention to religion in The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord.  Scott Carter’s metaphysical comedy pits three fascinating historical figures against one another in an area of post-earth limbo. Here, they debate the validity of their own eternal salvation and determine who was actually right.

Michael Laurence, Thom Sesma and Duane Boutte in the Primary Stages production of DISCORD – photo by Jeremy Daniel

Carter is best known for his work as an Executive Producer on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. After a near fatal medical emergency, he admitted to experiencing a spiritual epiphany which inspired his interest in writing the play. After productions in other U.S. cities, it  is now  enjoying a New York premiere through Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theater.

Recently, the busy director—and enthusiastic mother of two—spoke to Manhattan Digest over the phone about her latest project. In true mom fashion, she multi-tasked by eating a pretzel, solving her children’s dilemma about who drank the mango juice, preparing for rehearsal, and answering tough life and death questions from this inquisitive journalist.

MD: How are audiences reacting to Discord?

KS:  After the show last night, there was a group of city high school students and a group of older, traditional theatergoers. Both groups were having the exact same conversation about the play and they overheard each other’s discussions. They were pretty surprised that each of them liked the same play and wanted to read more about the characters.  I thought, “If this is all that this play does, my job is done.”

MD: What attracted you to the work?

KS: I’m very compelled by grey area. The last question of play asks “Is the world better for our having lived?” That question is the type of question that the Greeks were asking themselves.

What is our responsibility to ourselves and others? In particular, I feel like men are being faced with the question of consequences. Maybe they don’t actively hate women, but by not listening to them? That is also bad. Have they participated in structural sexism?  It’s such a hot topic for me right now.

In this play, we have three men in three different eras confronting accountability, their own hypocrisies, and ways in which they were good and changed the world.

I don’t like working on things where I feel as though I’m an expert. This work has challenged me in that sense. Plus, it’s super smart, funny, and well written. It’s a home run as far as I’m concerned.

MD: What did you learn about your own religious or non-religious beliefs through the rehearsal process?

KS: It’s funny you asked this question during a Jewish holiday. I happen to be Jewish.  We have 10 days during Rosh Hashanah to work out who we are going to be this year. This play has that same reflective quality.  I’ve always been an anti-organized religious person. The only reason I’ve gone back to temple is because I have kids and I want them to make their own decision. In my return, I’ve re-investigated and have found a place that speaks to me and hits me in this moment.

Director Kimberly Senior. Photo by Brandon Dahlquist

MD: Do you feel as though religion—particularly Christianity in this instance– is a help or hindrance to human relationships?

KS: Wow!  I think it’s each according to his/her own. Exploration and investigation is vital. Whether that is of your own actions, your own faith, or the intersection of those two, we must not stop. I’m reminded of Walt Whitman’s line in Song of Myself where he writes “urge and urge and urge”.

MD: All three of the characters in Discord had their own versions of the gospel. What is it about the Bible that remains a source of debate and inspiration today?

KS: We can’t stop going back to the thing! Is it a metaphor? Is it teaching us how to live? Which version of it do we follow?  We can’t quite figure it out. We keep returning to it because we think it is has some pretty good stuff, but we’re trying to get to the meat of the matter.

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord is playing now through Oct 22nd at Cherry Lane Theatre. For tickets and more information, click here.