Greg Berger’s Underneath the Lintel, the final show of the Yale Cabaret’s Fall 2010 semester, was a tour de force performance by Max Gordon Moore, directed by Blake Segal, of a monologue by turns comically amateurish, donnishly fussy, nervously awkward, passionately determined, and profoundly shaken. Moore plays “The Librarian,” a nebbishy Dutchman who works in a library in Holland and seems relatively content with his methodical life and work: his blustering pride in his date stamper—“it contains every date that ever was or will be”—gives a good indication of his fetishistic involvement with his trade. Thus when he comes across a Baedeker returned 113 years overdue, his professional curiosity is piqued. Before long, he’s taking trips to London, then to Germany—while projecting slides of his travels, both generic and historically specific—and eventually to China, all in pursuit of a phantom who travels relentlessly, cannot sit, has lived an extremely long time, and is apparently Jewish.
The Wandering Jew, of course! The Librarian, as librarians will, fills us in on the background of this mythic figure—traced back to Christ’s pre-crucifixion schlepping of the cross through the streets of Jerusalem when he paused to rest on the shopfront of a tradesman. Provoked by soldiers, the latter tells the Savior to shove off, only to be told that he will never rest “till I come again.” Thus is born a figure who cannot even recline—much to the dismay of the woman somewhere around the turn of the nineteenth century who wrote a love letter to the man known only as “A.” (for Ahasuerus, our pedantic sleuth presumes—the name traditionally associated with this legendary figure).
The fascination of the play—besides the non-stop monologue that creates a character fleshed out by his particular mannerisms and asides—derives from the leaps of imaginative and deductive insight that the Librarian undertakes and relays with the enthused conviction of a discoverer of a “believe it or not” fact, possibly even of a new faith, since, as he tells us dramatically, if the Wandering Jew exists, then God exists.
The play almost strays a bit too far into metaphysics to be simply good fun (which it undoubtedly is), but there is an undercurrent of serious thought compelling its Stoppardian interplay of the kinds of jokes fate plays: in following the Librarian’s monologue we come to questions about the nature and purpose of our time on earth and whether the satisfactions of any walk of life can calm the existential uncertainty of what life is for.
Moore, whose father, Todd Jefferson Moore, played The Librarian in the Seattle premiere in 2003, was, as ever, eminently watchable and vastly entertaining, attacking the role with astounding energy and verve. Starring in an actor’s play, Moore showed the command of an actor’s actor, directed by Segal and produced by Danny Binstock, both actors in the Drama School. Praise goes as well to Set Designer Meredith Ries whose set of boxes, file cabinets, chalkboard, slide projector, and other ephemera gave the Cab’s stage the kind of musty, underused air that one can only find in the dimmest reaches of Sterling’s stacks.
Underneath the Lintel, written by Glen Berger, directed by Blake Segal
Yale Cabaret, November 18-20, 2010