Surprise is the Story in Chamber’s Brilliant Production of “Lintel”

Elyse Edelman in “Underneath the Lintel” at Chamber Theatre

There is perhaps nothing in the world quite like a surprise. 

They come in all forms and in all manner, but the one thing that a great surprise has is that it makes you smile.

A surprise is different from a shock. Surprise is gentle and slow while a shock has all the subtlety of a hard slap across your face.

The reason that surprise has become the subject today is that the Glen Berger play, “Underneath the Lintel” has opened at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and it is a story that makes you appreciate how important a surprise can be in a life. 

The play is the story of a Dutch librarian (Elyse Edelman) whose task is to pick up the books left in the overnight box, check them back in, and levy fines for those that are overdue.

One box contains a copy of a Baedeker’s travel guide that had been checked out 113 years ago. Ms. Edelman is incredibly surprised by this ancient return and that surprise stimulates her into following a mysterious trail to find the answers to the questions surrounding this remarkable event.

This librarian, trapped in an unremarkable and mundane life, seizes on a deeply hidden and surprising curiosity to begin a journey that seduces the audience into joining her no matter where this trail leads.

And what a trail it is.

Using a flimsy excuse to her boss, she empties her meager bank account and takes off in search of…something. She faces one question as she sets out – who took this book out and how did it come back 113 years later. 

But as she moves from clue to clue and place to place, she finds the questions piling up and the answers remaining ever more elusive. 

From present day London her journey takes her back to the days of Christ and the tale of the Wandering Jew, the man who stood under his lintel as Christ passed by, asking for aid, but being denied. That denial, of course, cursed the Jew to a life of wandering the earth, unfulfilled. 

Brent Hazelton, the Artistic Director at Chamber, directed this production with a gentle hand that placed unlimited faith in Ms. Edelman, an actor of immense endowment. It takes immense courage and intelligence for a director to pull back and allow an actor in his charge to take off under her own wings and fly unburdened by second-guessing. Mr. Hazelton eloquently displays both that courage and intelligence.

As for Ms. Edelman, there are few words left unused to describe the thrall in which she always enwraps a story, a character and, most importantly, an audience. There is nothing that is too much for her, whether it be silly humor or searing drama. 

With the librarian, she creates a character with well defined layers. On one hand she is  dumpy and perpetually trapped in a vise of the ordinary. On the other hand she is passionate and dedicated to an unquenchable thirst that is a surprise, both to her and to all of  us watching this happen. 

This production is almost a perfect play for our time. For over a year we have all been trapped by an external force that seemed like a straightjacket. It has made us as lonely and sad as, say, a spinster Dutch librarian. 

As this play eloquently shows, all we need is the same thing that freed her from her bonds – a stunning surprise.

“Underneath the Lintel runs through May 2 and tickets are available at https://www.milwaukeechambertheatre.org.

Production credits: Director, Brent Hazelton; Stage Manager, Monique Barthel; Composer and Sound Designer, Josh Schmidt; Scenic Properties and Projection Designer, Madelyn Yee; Costume Designer, Austin Winter; Lighting Designer, Noele Stollmack. 

There is perhaps nothing in the world quite like a surprise. 

They come in all forms and in all manner, but the one thing that a great surprise has is that it makes you smile.

A surprise is different from a shock. Surprise is gentle and slow while a shock has all the subtlety of a hard slap across your face.

The reason that surprise has become the subject today is that the Glen Berger play, “Underneath the Lintel” has opened at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and it is a story that makes you appreciate how important a surprise can be in a life. 

The play is the story of a Dutch librarian (Elyse Edelman) whose task is to pick up the books left in the overnight box, check them back in, and levy fines for those that are overdue.

One box contains a copy of a Baedeker’s travel guide that had been checked out 113 years ago. Ms. Edelman is incredibly surprised by this ancient return and that surprise stimulates her into following a mysterious trail to find the answers to the questions surrounding this remarkable event.

This librarian, trapped in an unremarkable and mundane life, seizes on a deeply hidden and surprising curiosity to begin a journey that seduces the audience into joining her no matter where this trail leads.

And what a trail it is.

Using a flimsy excuse to her boss, she empties her meager bank account and takes off in search of…something. She faces one question as she sets out – who took this book out and how did it come back 113 years later. 

But as she moves from clue to clue and place to place, she finds the questions piling up and the answers remaining ever more elusive. 

From present day London her journey takes her back to the days of Christ and the tale of the Wandering Jew, the man who stood under his lintel as Christ passed by, asking for aid, but being denied. That denial, of course, cursed the Jew to a life of wandering the earth, unfulfilled. 

Brent Hazelton, the Artistic Director at Chamber, directed this production with a gentle hand that placed unlimited faith in Ms. Edelman, an actor of immense endowment. It takes immense courage and intelligence for a director to pull back and allow an actor in his charge to take off under her own wings and fly unburdened by second-guessing. Mr. Hazelton eloquently displays both that courage and intelligence.

As for Ms. Edelman, there are few words left unused to describe the thrall in which she always enwraps a story, a character and, most importantly, an audience. There is nothing that is too much for her, whether it be silly humor or searing drama. 

With the librarian, she creates a character with well defined layers. On one hand she is  dumpy and perpetually trapped in a vise of the ordinary. On the other hand she is passionate and dedicated to an unquenchable thirst that is a surprise, both to her and to all of  us watching this happen. 

This production is almost a perfect play for our time. For over a year we have all been trapped by an external force that seemed like a straightjacket. It has made us as lonely and sad as, say, a spinster Dutch librarian. 

As this play eloquently shows, all we need is the same thing that freed her from her bonds – a stunning surprise.

“Underneath the Lintel runs through May 2 and tickets are available at https://www.milwaukeechambertheatre.org.

Production credits: Director, Brent Hazelton; Stage Manager, Monique Barthel; Composer and Sound Designer, Josh Schmidt; Scenic Properties and Projection Designer, Madelyn Yee; Costume Designer, Austin Winter; Lighting Designer, Noele Stollmack. 

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