- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

Those of us spoiled by Google and other Internet search engines may have forgotten the subtle pleasures of the old-fashioned card catalog library search. The joys of the Dewey Decimal System and other research-tool delights abound in Glen Berger’s winsome play, “Underneath the Lintel,” which is as much about a search for meaning as it is about digging for facts.

This funny and gentle one-man play stars Jerry Whiddon, producing artistic director at Round House, in the inaugural production at Round House’s new space next door to the AFI’s Silver Theatre. Round House Silver Spring is a flexible, black box space seating 400 — and while the possibilities of the modified thrust stage are endless, the modern steel-and-black fabric chairs are a lesson in pain management.

“Underneath the Lintel” could be subtitled, “A Long Day’s Journey Into The Stacks.” It tells the story of a once mild-mannered librarian in a small town in Holland who takes a book returned 113 years overdue to heart.

How could someone be so remiss, he ponders. Firing off an overdue slip to the perpetrator’s last known address, in China, the librarian uses all his considerable look-up skills to unearth the person.

At first he has just an initial: a capital “A,” but from this flimsy clue the librarian pieces together an astonishing portrait, deriving facts and suppositions from scribblings in the book’s margins, an unclaimed ticket from a Chinese laundry in London, a trolley car report filed in the early 1900s, a love letter from World War I, housekeeping reports from an 18th-century English estate and a log entry about a quarantined dog.

The librarian moves from mere intellectual curiosity to zealotry when he decides the man in question is the mythical Wandering Jew. The play’s title refers to the Christian folk tale about a Jewish shop owner who encounters Jesus carrying the cross and resting for a moment on his doorstep. The shop owner, not wanting trouble, tells Jesus to move along. Jesus gets up, but says that the man will have no rest until the Second Coming. And so, for centuries, the Wandering Jew has been roaming the Earth, with sightings of him cropping up from time to time in literature and art.

The librarian is convinced that finding the Wandering Jew proves the existence of God. “Underneath the Lintel” is an engrossing play about literary sleuthing, and you marvel at the librarian’s ingenuity and his crazed commitment to traveling all over the globe to check his sources (much to the detriment of his job).

The librarian tells of his findings in a crazy-quilt setting of slide projectors, screens, a blackboard, abandoned furniture and a shabby suitcase full of pertinent paper scraps, the outward manifestation of his once-orderly and now obsessed mind. You can see this unraveling mirrored as well in Mr. Whiddon’s appearance, the unpressed pants, the unkempt professorial hair and his impassioned but meticulous delivery. He is both civil servant and Don Quixote-like quester.

The nobility and the quiet desperation of the librarian is fully brought to life by Mr. Whiddon, who is directed with unfussy command by Jane Beard.

Beyond a story that at first appears to be about a midlife crisis, there is a small, simple message about every person’s desire to make a mark on the world and leave something behind that says, “I was here.”

“Underneath the Lintel” is not so much about locating the Wandering Jew or proving that God exists as it is about one man who wants to be remembered, rather than forgotten among the dusty stacks of time.

***

WHAT: “Underneath the Lintel” by Glen Berger

WHERE: Round House Theatre Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through June 8.

TICKETS: $27 to $36

PHONE: 240/644-1100 MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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