Entries in James Ridge (1)



Playwright Glen Berger’s script conjures a multitude of questions in his play Underneath the Lintel that draws from historical legends and mythology. Written in 2001, the one character drama produced by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre relies considerably on the acting genius of James Ridge, a 16-year veteran imported from Spring Green’s American Players Theatre. His portrayal of a Dutch Librarian searching for a person who would return a traveler’s guide in deplorable condition 113 years overdue will visibly move the audience when he leaves the stage 90 plus minutes after they sit down.

Luckily for Chamber Theatre audiences, Ridge deftly handles the nuances to the this bereft Librarian’s persona, who since losing the love of his life spends all his time stamping books returned in the library’s night slot. Without sitting to rest for the entire performance and no intermission, Ridge mysteriously follows the clues he uncovers in the overdue book over centuries and continents through his knowledge of reference materials. As the audience eventually discovers, The Librarian then unknowingly follows the path of what is known as the Errant, Eternal or Wandering Jew.

Art, drama, literature and music retell these wanderer stories through the eyes of various cultures and Berger intertwines this history with his mix of quirky humor befitting a Dutch librarian trapped in his small town. Poignant moments reflecting questions that have haunted humanity drift through the dialogue that also reawakens curiosity in the audience.

Initially, Ridge’s quest appears ludicrous, and the audience needs to sit back and enjoy the preliminary storytelling. Before Berger and Ridge fully confront what “underneath the lintel” eventually means and the subsequent journey. For those unacquainted with this tale, transcendence waits, when the audience fully comprehends everything that can happen underneath the lintel.

Which perhaps begins when the Jewish nation first painted their lintels with blood so the angel of death would spare them from an Egyptian Pharaoh’s captivity and destructive curse. This became the Jewish Passover, a precursor to the wandering Jew legend, which supposedly occurred during Holy Week.

Ridge carries the audience and the weight of the wandering Jew’s journey by using numbered evidence to prove this person may actually exist. The only concern The Librarian faces could be if he proves this legend as true, then must God truly exist as well? Which opens a whole Pandora’s box of existential mysteries: Why is each person here? What is love? And what constitutes one person's existence in a short span on earth? 

These questions only subtly reflect the themes in Berger’s play, carried out on a lonely auditorium stage, where a chalkboard, humble desk, dilapidated suitcase and slide projector are effectively interchanged. Chamber Theatre’s compelling Underneath the Lintel may be appreciated on multiple levels. Even if only to marvel at Ridge's perfromance, again directed by C. Michael Wright, to attain this command of the stage. His ability to captivate the audience in this highly intellectual but humorous play reveals another one of drama’s reflection on “everyman," pertinent to each person sitting in the audience.

While Underneath the Lintel applies few answers to the questions the play poses, the script is well worth revisiting. In a flight of fancy at the final scene, the constantly in motion Librarian and an effervescent, masterful Ridge dance off the stage. When The Librarian believes life needs to be cherished when one discovers those moments to “revel in mirth and beauty.”

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Underneath the Lintel ias part of the "Exploring Jewish Voices" series n the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through March 17. The company also presents a staged reading of Plaza Hotel Ballroom by Alice Austen on Monday, March 4, 7:30 p.m in the Skylight Bar & Bistro. There annual Young Playwrights Festival happens the weekend of March 21-24. For further information and tickets, please call: 414. 291.7800 or click the link to the left.      by Peggy Sue Dunigan