If you're perusing this and have not seen the Flying Machine Theatre Company production of Glen Berger's Underneath the Lintel at Raleigh Charter High School, stop reading, call 800/514-ETIX, and book your tickets now. Because if you miss this one — and too many Triangle theater-goers already have — you will have deprived yourself of an experience so unique and rapturous it will refresh your spirit, fire your mind, and enrich every corner of your life.
Make the call. I'll wait.
Got your tickets? Good. Now please allow me to give you some small notion of the sublime pleasures that await you. I'm going to be brief, and somewhat elliptical, because any proper encapsulation of this play risks revealing too much, and lessening its powerful impact.
Underneath the Lintel consists of an impassioned semi-lecture by a shabby Dutch librarian — played with extraordinary depth of feeling by Julian "J" Chachula, Jr. — which relates his belief-shaking, life-altering attempt to track down the borrower of an extremely overdue book. As interest becomes obsession, the Librarian takes us on a mystic, metaphysical journey that, much like a peeled onion, reveals layer upon layer of the miraculous. The play is spiritual in the very best sense, and concerned with some of the profoundest questions of human experience.
It gives little away to note that the Librarian's "Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences" takes in an ancient Baedeker, a laundry ticket used as a bookmark, a pair of unclaimed trousers, a tram ticket from 1912, a 232-year-old work voucher, several productions of Les Misérables, a whistled tune that defies the logic of time, the death of Aeschylus, and a 50-cent recording made at the 1939 World's Fair.
There's more than a hint of the marvelous James Burke series "Connections" here, but that is peripheral. What matters is the emotional core the playwright slowly reveals, and the exquisite texture of those revelations. In Underneath the Lintel, Glen Berger has pulled off one of the most difficult forms of theater — the monodrama, or one-man show — with verve, wit, style, passion, and breath-taking aplomb. The language soars with unselfconscious brilliance, and the characterization is one of exceptional solidity. All of that is impressive enough, but Berger's ultimate triumph lies in the contents of the exercise. Here, the everyday assumes the contours of the genuinely poetic and the unexceptional an emotional aspect of terrible, moving import.
I can only hint at the transcendent perfection of Chachula's performance in this limited space, but it's a beauty. The Librarian is slightly self-important, more than a bit priggish, and often achingly funny, and the actor gets it all absolutely right. (His Dutch accent is somewhat variable, but that's a minor aside.) Chachula lets us see how obsession enlivens this gray little functionary in increments, until at last his eyes shine with the fever of discovery, desire, hope, and a desperately human need. This is a performance of such rare acumen, joy, erudition, and anguish it can sear your skin off.
The staging by Mark Perry (himself a playwright of note) could scarcely be bettered: his work encompasses pace, tension, and a superbly timed reflectiveness that meshes perfectly with the actor and the text. Devra Thomas deserves a mention as well for her apt and well-chosen props, which are of uncommon importance to the play. Steve Tell has done wonders lighting a difficult space, and Wade Dansby III has designed an exceptionally haunting graphic image for the playbill.
This vital production has been playing to shamefully small audiences during its run. This, it seems to me, is so appalling it verges on the criminal. The Librarian wonders if he would recognize a miracle if he saw it? To which I can only reply: I would. I saw one Saturday night: it's called Underneath the Lintel.
Go thou and do likewise.
Flying Machine Theatre Company presents Underneath the Lintel Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 2, at 6 p.m. at Raleigh Charter High School, 1111 Haynes St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $12-$15 ($9-$15 in advance). 800/514-ETIX. http://www.flyingmachinetheatre.com/ [inactive 9/04].
Dear Mr. Ross,
Thanks so much for your wonderful review of Underneath the Lintel [Flying Machine Theatre Company, 8 p.m. Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at Raleigh Charter High School, 1111 Haynes St., Raleigh, NC] in this week's CVNC online newsletter. As publicist, I was greatly heartened that the play appealed as strongly to a critic as it did to the artist who chose to perform it. Mr. Chachula [Julian "J" Chachula, Jr.] had an immediate connection with the text upon spotting it and took all pains possible to make a production of it down here a reality. He was right to take the risk.
The scanty audiences are real shame. Location has a great deal to do with it, as does timing. Many of the most devoted patrons, other actors and directors, are heavily booked themselves with rehearsals and performances in this heated month.
But the life of J's performance will not close on November 2nd. The production is nimble, mobile, and can be transposed to other venues. This is certainly J's intention and hopefully good word of mouth, sparked by enthusiastic reviews such as yours, will stimulate attendance in the future.
Again, thanks for your kind words in your review. I believe those who do venture out to see the show will strongly agree with you!
Chapel Hill, NC
October 27, 2003
Editor's Note: Robert's Reviews published Scott Ross' review of Underneath the Lintel in Part 4 (October 27, 2003) of this weekly theatrical newsletter's October 23rd issue. For more information about this show, visit http://www.flyingmachinetheatre.com/ [inactive 9/04]. For tickets, telephone 800/514-ETIX.