Playwright: Glen Berger
At: The Noble Fool at
Pheasant Run Resort
Phone: ( 630 ) 584-6342; $27-$37
Runs through: April 2
The Wandering Jew of late-medieval legend was a cobbler who scorned Jesus as He bore the cross. Jesus told the cobbler, "Thou shalt tarry till I come again." For nearly 2,000 years, the cobbler has wandered the earth, homeless and undying, always a stranger in a strange land who cannot sleep or even sit down. He's a symbol of redemption to come, if you believe Christian iconography which increasingly is distorted by people who drape their prejudice, bigotry and chauvinism in religiosity.
But what if the Wandering Jew were real? What if he left slim traces of his presence across the millennia, traces a dogged and intellectual scholar might discern? If verifiable, the existence of the Wandering Jew would affirm the existence of God and the truth of the gospels. This is a profound premise for a work of theater, but it may not sound very entertaining. That's where Underneath the Lintel comes in.
This one-man play is not so much about matters of faith—they are implied rather than discussed—as it is about the sleuthing by a most unlikely detective, a quirky, sometimes-annoying, obsessive Dutch librarian who presents his findings on the subject in a public lecture. Author Glen Berger is skillful enough to limit his tale to 90 minutes or so, and to capture attention with oddball humor, theatrical surprises and a dazzling journey across history and geography that takes the theatrical traveler from the Holy Land to China to Georgian England to the 1939 New York World's Fair.
When you have an actor such as Larry Neumann, Jr. in the solo role, it's a safe bet you're in for a good show and he doesn't disappoint. Neumann's pleasantly bland looks coupled with his signature intensity and comic instincts are perfectly matched to the material. Still, Underneath the Lintel didn't quite live up to my expectations ( having been captivated by this work in its original Off-Broadway run three years ago ) , and my issues are with director John Gawlik.
With a large stage to fill, he's allowed scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge to create an enormous set filled with dusty, miscellaneous junk. It's too obviously the attic of Western Civilization, and its size is both unnecessary and distracting. Neumann's entanglements in it are stage business merely for the sake of stage business. Also, Gawlik has Neumann speak in an uncalled-for European accent that adds nothing. Neumann even says "Oi!" which identifies the librarian himself as Jewish, something unsupported by the text.
Am I quibbling? Yes, but there's a point: Underneath the Lintel is smart and entertaining. It requires only a riveting actor and a few props to interpret the text. This production surmounts the gimmicks, but it doesn't need them.