Theater Review: Underneath the Lintel
This is the tale of a middle-aged librarian from Holland. Having spent a great deal of time with librarians-in-training while studying in Bloomington, the Librarian's hang-ups for order and consistency are spot-on with many I have met. Where my acquaintances and this librarian differ is how they deal with overdue books.
To be fair, this book was overdue by 113 years. So far out of the norm, the librarian is shocked out of his droll routine and becomes obsessed with the book. Who checked it out? What happened to the book while it was checked out? Why was it turned back in? Unable to shake these questions, the librarian eventually starts his own investigation to find answers to his questions. During this journey he finds much more than he expected.
The story uses a variation of the legend of the Wandering Jew as a vehicle to carry plot. The title of the play comes from one of the central elements of the legend. Recounting the legend, the Librarian explained that as Jesus was being taken to be crucified, he collapsed on the front step of a cobbler. The cobbler, not knowing what to do —and certainly not wanting to anger the Roman guards— tells Jesus to move on. Jesus, in response, tells the cobbler that he must walk the earth until he returns to earth. The cobbler was cursed to never rest, hence the moniker, the Wandering Jew. This interaction between the cobbler and Jesus took place underneath the lintel —the top beam over a doorway— of the cobbler's shop.
We are led to believe through the Librarian's story that the Wandering Jew (named Ahasuerus) originally checked out the book more than a century ago. The Librarian uses his keenly refined research skills to trace Ahasuerus back over two hundred years through such ephemera as police reports, dry cleaning receipts, and journal entries. The more evidence he gathers, the more be believes the Wondering Jew was more than just a legend.
During this process of discovery, the Librarian also comes to the realization that the if the legend is true, then there must also be a god to have cursed Ahasuerus. This is quite a revelation for the faithless librarian. While searching for Ahasuerus he inadvertently finds faith. Problem is, the more evidence he finds, the more desperate he becomes to find more evidence to further back up his new-found faith.
Robert Pirsig, in his discussion of quality, says that quality is something that you see out of the corner of your eye. If you try to look at it too hard, it won't be able to see it; you can never put your finger directly on it. The Librarian's faith in the Wondering Jew is similar. He is able to find the periphery of his existence but as the Librarian tries to get closer to the center, he ends up grasping at straws. He felt that by proving Ahasuerus' existence it would somehow justify and bring meaning to his own.
Although this summary makes the story seem overly theological, it is more about a man finding purpose in his life after leading a life that has had little. Immediately after watching it, I was struck with how amazing it was that the entire two hours was filled by a single actor —an Indiana local, Robert K Johansen. Upon reflection, I am now appreciating how deep the story actually is.
The performance is advertised as a comedy (don't get me wrong, I laughed quite a bit) the message is quite a bit deeper.
Tickets provided courtesy of the Indiana Repertory Theatre.
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