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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

James Ridge in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's "Under the Lintel." (PHOTO: Kevin Pauly)

"Under the Lintel" puts an unorthodox twist on ancient story


The legend of the Wandering Jew is a controversial one that has been used for centuries to support anti-Semitic beliefs and behaviors.

The Jew was believed to have taunted Christ on the way to the Crucifixion, a taunting that took place under the lintel of a cobbler's shop. The Jew was then cursed to wander the earth until the Second Coming.

It would seem an odd choice for a one-man play about the meaning of life and the measure of one's worth. And yet, that's exactly what you get with "Underneath the Lintel," which opened over the weekend at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre for a month-long run.

The one-man play, nurtured and premiered at the prestigious Yale Drama School, was written by Glen Berger in 1999. It has been widely performed to great critical acclaim throughout the world.

James Ridge, a regular member of the American Players in Spring Green, turns in a performance that makes you gasp in wonder as director C. Michael Wright leads him through a stunning and mysterious journey to which we are all privileged watchers.

Ridge plays a Dutch librarian who discovers a travel guide returned to his library 113 years overdue. He is outraged at this affront to the rules of the library.

He begins a search for the mysterious A. who checked out the book and his search is now being reported in an unused theater the librarian has rented for this "interesting and important show."

With a battered suitcase full of scraps of evidence, the librarian unveils a search that took him from Holland, his home, to China, Australia, various cities in Europe and all over the world.

While the search for the scofflaw who had the book is the the story we are to follow and the bill of goods the librarian is trying to sell, the story behind the search is something much deeper.

It's about the worth of our tales and, inevitably, our lives. We dedicate ourselves, either frivolously or diligently, to pursuits that etch the bookmarks in our lives. Just as we ask for external approval and support for our lives, so, too, do we look inside ourselves to wonder if it was all worth it.

The performance by Ridge is a towering one as he graces the stage with both a certainty in his cause and a bewilderment that nobody sees how important this is. Everything about this actor is, in this play, perfect. He is funny, rarely and embarrassingly profane, sad, confused and righteous in his passions.

Each step along his search is greeted with wonder and awe as he fits the pieces together, hoping and convinced, that at the end he will have an entire puzzle successfully put together.

This production has plenty of laughs, but it is a serious play about a serious subject. It will raise questions for all of us about our lives and about our passions. They are questions that, like the librarian, may never be fully answered.

"Under the Lintel" runs through March 17 and information can be found at chamber-heatre.com.

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