The moment #TCTheater favorite Sally Wingert enters the room (in a unique way I won't spoil here), she has the audience in the palm of her hand. The premise of the play is that she is a Dutch librarian giving a presentation, which allows her to speak directly to the audience, because we're part of the story (and be sure to turn off your phone, because if you don't, and it rings, you will get the stink eye from Sally Wingert). This librarian's quiet, simple life changed for good (who can say if it was for the better) when she found in the overnight slot a book that was over 100 years overdue. This discovery sends her on a quest around the world searching for the mysterious A., from a Chinese laundry in London, to a traffic office in Germany, to a post office box in China, and all the way to Australia. She soon theorizes that she is on the trail of the mythical Wandering Jew, who is over a thousand years old and can never rest or die, and cannot tell anyone who he is, but just wanders the earth and subtly puts his mark on where he's been. The story captivates the audience as much as it captivates the librarian, as the clues cleverly draw us from one revelation to the next, tying things together in a way that makes you believe this myth could be real. But this search, while fulfilling, also devastates the librarian as she looses everything in her life, and begins to think about her regrets, and ponders the meaning of her very existence.
|Sally Wingert as the librarian (photo by Dan Norman)
But what about the music, you ask? The librarian has a little tape player (this is 1986, BTW) which she plays while telling her story, along with a slide projector showing images of her journey. But sometimes when she pushes play on the tape player, there appears behind the black scrim musicians Dan Chouinard playing piano or accordion and Natalie Nowytski with haunting vocals. As more of the behind-the-scrim world is revealed, we stacks and stacks of luggage. They musicians are not really there, they're like a dream from another time or place. On the surface this is a simple little story being told, but there are many complicated elements of production (props, music, recordings, slides, lighting) that all come together beautifully, thanks to scenic designer Michael Hoover, lighting designer Barry Browing, sound designer John Acarregui, projection designer Katy Maxwell, and the whole production team.
After the play, my friend asked me "do you think she's the Wandering Jew?" "As much as any of us are," I responded. Maybe we're all the Wandering Jew, doomed (or blessed) to wander the earth in search of meaning. Desperate to make our mark, to leave something behind that proves WE WERE HERE. This is the kind of play (with music) that inspires such musings, after taking you on a thoroughly captivating ride through time, place, and ideas.
Underneath the Lintel continues through July 1 at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis