It is rare when Triangle audiences get a second chance to see what is widely regarded as a consensus Top 10 show from the previous year. But, thanks to The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC, local theatergoers will once again feast on the prime performance of Julian "J" Chachula, Jr. as an eccentric and completely obsessed Dutch librarian in the critically acclaimed Flying Machine Theatre Co. production of playwright Glen Berger's wonderful one-man show, Underneath the Lintel, which opens tonight.
Director Mark Perry writes, "J Chachula shared the script with me in the spring of 2003. He didn't ask me to direct it right away, but he was interested in having me involved, especially in a dramaturgical role. He was really passionate about the play and had seen it done in New York at the Soho Playhouse a couple of times. It's a new play, first performed as I understand, in 2001. By the time we performed it, productions were being done all over the place."
Perry, who is the founder and artistic director of The Drama Circle of Carrboro, adds, "I really liked the play from the get-go. It's both funny and meaningful in a remarkably insistent way. As a playwright, I marvel at how well-crafted it is.
"Glen Berger has created a masterful dramatic structure beneath an exterior that just gleams with its stream-of-conscious flow. And the one-man show is a hard form. I decided to direct it because J asked me to," Mark Perry says. "Even then I had to sleep on it. The play is a bit more defiant than I am (or at least than I aim to be). As it turns out, I have enjoyed directing it very much. It has proved a wonderful opening into the world for us to explore."
In Underneath the Lintel, Perry explains, "a persnickety Dutch librarian (J Chachula) one day discovers a 113-year-overdue book in the overnight return slot. The librarian is driven to pursue the violator and winds up following a trail of clues that take him around the world, opening him up to wonders and experiences he never dreamed of before. The startling conclusion he comes to is what he has now come to Carrboro ArtsCenter to share with us.
In addition to director Mark Perry, the production team for this encore production includes producer Lynden Harris, set designer Rob Hamilton, lighting designer Robert Matteson, and prop designer Devra Thomas.
"As far as major challenges [in restaging this October 2003 Raleigh, NC production for Carrboro and Chapel Hill audiences]," Perry says, "there are a lot of demands placed squarely upon J's shoulders. It is not only a major commitment of memory but of self. It's a tour de force for him, a real chance for his emotional richness to come to the fore."
Perry adds, "The biggest change from our original production is the set designed by Rob Hamilton, which should be a beautiful study in decrepitude and dust. Lighting is fairly simple as are costumes (it being a one man show). Props and slide photographs, however, are so specific in the script that they were quite a challenge to come up with.
"This play is about breaking open the restrictive shells that we all get stuck in," claims Mark Perry. "It's marvelous and life-affirming. It opens up floodgates of compassion. And it's a lot of fun."
In naming Underneath the Lintel as one of Robert's Reviews' 10 best shows of 2003, Scott Ross wrote, "Triangle audiences who missed this one deprived themselves of an experience so unique and rapturous it refreshed the spirit, fired the mind, and enriched every corner of the soul. Glen Berger's powerful monodrama, subtitled "An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences," consisted of an impassioned semi-lecture by a shabby Dutch librarian — played with extraordinary depth of feeling by [J Chachula] — which related his belief-shaking, life-altering attempt to track down the borrower of an extremely overdue book. As interest became obsession, the Librarian took us on a mystic, metaphysical journey that, much like a peeled onion, revealed layer upon layer of the miraculous. Spiritual in the very best sense, the play was concerned with some of the profoundest questions of human experience, and Chachula's performance was one of such rare acumen, joy, erudition, and anguish it could sear your skin off. Mark Perry staged the piece with pace, tension, and a superbly timed reflectiveness that meshed perfectly with the actor and the text. At one point, the Librarian wondered if he would recognize a miracle if he saw it; I saw one this season. It was called Underneath the Lintel."
Note 1: For more information on the original production, see the Robert's Reviews preview: http://www.cvnc.org/th-arch1003.html#LintelPre and review: http://www.cvnc.org/th-arch1003.html#LintelRev.
Note 2: The ArtsCenter invites Robert's Reviews readers to "'Return' a copy of your own favorite book in the theatre drop box and watch the set fill with a new library for The Healing Place, a transitional facility for homeless men [http://www.hpowc.org/]. Donor 'library cards' are available for inscription [by J Chachula]. Book drops are also located at Branch's Bookshop in Chapel Hill, The Regulator in Durham, Bulls Head Bookshop on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, and Brick Alley Books in Hillsborough."
Flying Machine Theatre Co. presents Underneath the Lintel Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 14-16 and 21-23, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 17 and 24, at 3 p.m. in the Earl Wynn Theatre at The ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro, North Carolina. $14 ($12 students and ArtsCenter Friends). 919/929-2787. Flying Machine Theatre Co.: http://www.flyingmachine.dreamhost.com/productions/lintel.html. The ArtsCenter: http://www.artscenterlive.org/theater.html.