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Two great minds argue on stage. Courtesy: NoHo Arts Center

Honors College students were invited to attend an early screening of a new play in Hollywood Thursday, supporting an APU theology professor who contributed to the production while enjoying the latest work of “Real Time with Bill Maher” producer Scott Carter.

While Carter wrote the play, called “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy: DISCORD,” it was based on a book manuscript co-written with Dr. Michael Bruner, professor in the Department of Practical Theology.

Honors student Danielle Patterson described the play as a drama-comedy with some serious and comedic elements.

“In our minds we would think they [Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy] were very serious, but then it kind of made fun of what their beliefs were in a way that wasn’t insulting to them but were also thought-provoking,” Patterson said.

The students were given special access to the play as part of the Honors Colloquia program. All Honors students are required to complete four semesters of the program.

The play was performed at The NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood, before the official opening press night (Friday, Jan. 17) and two nights before the world premiere (Saturday, Jan. 18).

The play consisted of three actors portraying their characters debating their own gospels, lives and choices in a plain room, said sophomore finance and accounting major Sarah MacIntosh.

“The way the actors did it [the play] was really unique, it’s just a plain room with basically no props, but they had a lot of electronic things that they used in the play with lights flashing and stuff like that,” MacIntosh said. “So it was really interesting, it kind of made it come alive. And I think the actors did a great job portraying the message.”

After the 80-minute play ended, Bruner held a “talk back” to discuss his involvement with the development of the manuscript behind the play. He and Carter also hosted a Q-and-A session for the Honors students.

The project began 14 years ago when Carter approached Bruner after seeing him teach a class as a substitute at a Presbyterian church in Hollywood.

“He approached me with the idea to work on a book that compared their approaches, as he didn’t have the theological training to do something like that,” Bruner said. “So we met almost every Sunday for four years over lunch and Scott would transcribe all the work I’d done the previous week onto his computer.”

Much of Bruner’s work was researching and making comparisons among the three different gospels that Dickens, Tolstoy and Jefferson had written. Bruner said he decided to involve himself in the project to learn more about the famous authors.

“It [the project] involved a couple of my favorite authors, who I’d read in college, and really it was an opportunity to learn,” Bruner said. “I wanted to use my mind.”

Years of research, transcriptions, drafts and questions resulted in the book manuscript upon which the play was based.

“We essentially made an agreement that we wouldn’t try to publish the book until after the play was produced,” Bruner said.

Bruner and Carter have begun looking for literary agents and publishers interested in publishing their book, which includes 300 footnotes on Jefferson’s gospel alone.

The sold-out opening gala on Saturday, Jan. 18 featured a talk back with “Glee” actress Jane Lynch and author of “American Savage,” Dan Savage. Other talk backs will include “The Office” actor Rainn Wilson, Sunday, Feb. 2, and playwright Kemp Powers of “A Night in Miami,” Thursday, Jan. 30.

The play will continue to run at the NoHo ACE until Sunday, Feb. 23. Students can purchase tickets at www.thenohoartscenter.com for $15 each after entering the promo code AZUSA into the promo code box.