"Tomorrow I'll be gone. In no time at all, I'll be gone."
That statement, which the unnamed Dutch librarian makes to the audience assembled for her lecture in Glen Berger's 2001 solo play "Underneath the Lintel," has a double meaning. On the one hand, it reveals the lecture will be a one-time only event, thanks to what the librarian describes as the venue's exorbitant rental fees. On the other, her statement poignantly expresses the essence of Berger's writerly, scholarly meditation on identity, existence and our desire to leave something of ourselves behind after we've gone.
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"Underneath the Lintel"★ ★ ★ ½
Location: Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, (630) 986-8067, firstfolio.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through April 28, also 3:30 p.m. April 18 and April 25
Running time: About 80 minutes, no intermission
Parking: Free lot adjacent to the estate
Rating: For most audiences, one curse word
Multi-hyphenate Kristine Thatcher -- actress, director and award-winning playwright -- returns to First Folio Theatre after an 11-year absence to star in artistic director Alison C. Vesely's subtle, very satisfying revival of "Underneath the Lintel," ideally staged in the former chapel at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook.
The engaging Thatcher plays the tweedy, highly efficient and somewhat prickly librarian (a role Berger originally wrote for a man), who discovers a travel guide -- 113 years overdue -- in the overnight return bin.
Uncovering the identity of the borrower turns into an obsession for the librarian. And the quest for answers sends this middle-aged woman, who had scarcely traveled beyond the borders of her small town in the Netherlands, on a globe-spanning trek to China, Central America, Easter Island and New York City.
The librarian tracks the borrower through a series of (somewhat dubious) clues. There is the receipt from a London laundry used as a bookmark, a tram ticket recovered from a tattered pair of pants, copies of official records. a barely audible recording. Carefully preserved and labeled, the items are evidence to support her findings, which she delivers during an 80-minute lecture, presented with the aid of a blackboard and accompanied by a slideshow.
Turns out her search for the mystery man stretches back to biblical times, where it concludes with the mythical Wandering Jew who, according to legend, stood beneath the lintel of his shop and refused to let Jesus rest there as the procession made its way to Calvary for the Crucifixion. For that, the legend holds, the shopkeeper was condemned to forever wander the earth in anonymity. In fact, that's something he shares with the librarian herself, a point Berger makes explicit in a drama that borders on pedantic.
Thatcher's superb, self-aware performance suggests the librarian recognizes the similarities, although the penance she performs stems from an entirely different kind of offense. She brings grace, warmth and considerable humor to the role of a woman whose quest leads to a better understanding of herself, of the choices she has made and of the imprint she will leave -- if any.