By Jordan Wright (Photo/Chris Banks)
What drives us forward each day? For a Dutch librarian trapped in a humdrum job checking in books from the overnight repository and sending out overdue notices, it is to confront the man who checked out a Baedeker Travel Guide more than a century earlier.
As MetroStage’s production of “Underneath the Lintel” begins, the man known only as The Librarian launches into a lecture on his subsequent travels. His handmade sign reads, “Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences.”
“I have only one night for this, due to the extortionary rates of this auditorium,” he grouses, using historical slides from a carousel projector to aid in the telling.
Outraged by the audacity of a man who took so long to return a book, he determines to track him down. Apart from the borrower’s baffling initial — “A.” — and his confounding address, a small village in China, he has but one clue to go on. Tucked between the yellowed pages is a receipt for a pair of trousers from a laundry in London.
This small clue, though, unlocks the mysteries of life and releases him from a colorless life devoid of purpose. His quest will take him around the world on an emotional and metaphysical journey to find the mysterious “A.”
James Kronzer’s set is a masterpiece, an intriguing display of knickknacks that evokes the university quarters of Indiana Jones. Picture a jumble of objects gathered together by a man prospecting for answers: Worn briefcases and papers are strewn about the set while blackboards, an old globe and a long wooden table adorned with a skull surround him.
Paul Morella stars in this one-man play inspired by the legend of the wandering Jew, a man cursed to wander the earth until the Second Coming. Playwright Glen Berger has co-opted the myth to explore the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany. When The Librarian finds a second clue leading him to Bonn, he sets out on a seemingly endless trail of conundrums. Along the way he finds an unrequited romance and comes across a series of iconic moments in history.
Obscure arcana needed to understand the clues reveal The Librarian’s encyclopedic knowledge and inform his feverish expedition. Parables from Aesculus, modern day graffiti and Hobson’s ultimatum theory abound and all hint at the subject.
“The act of believing and the act of accepting are two very different things,” The Librarian ultimately tells us.
Morella gives a riveting and commanding performance, seamlessly reflecting the intensity of the character despite the show’s comedic irony. Director John Vreeke succeeds mightily in orchestrating this fascinating and complex production.
“Underneath the Lintel” runs through May 25 at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria. For tickets and information call 703-548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.