‘Underneath the Lintel’ One man’s inspirational quest
Patrick Spradlin’s one-person show is April 13.
BRAINERD — The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination” fully captures the underlying theme of the play “Underneath the Lintel,” a one-person show featuring local actor Patrick Spradlin and playing for one night only at 7 p.m. April 13 in the Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus of Central Lakes College.
Spradlin plays a character known only as “The Librarian” in Glen Berger’s 85 minute, no intermission depiction of a man’s life journey. Although The Librarian has led a rather unremarkable life, the story he wants to share is far from boring. It begins with a mystery, triggered when a tattered book appeared in his library’s night deposit box, 113 years overdue. Dismay at such blatant disrespect initiates The Librarian’s single-minded quest to find the culprit. He searches for clues, and uncovers just enough evidence to tease his imagination. Unable to ignore the itch to uncover the truth, The Librarian becomes reluctantly drawn into a globetrotting investigation that takes him into geographic and philosophic regions he’s never before imagined.
One question you might ask is "What is a Lintel?" From the dictionary, a lintel is "a horizontal supporting member, installed above an opening such as a window or a door, that serves to carry the weight of the wall above it." It refers to the incident during The Librarian’s journey when he realizes the man who may have had the book all this time could be the "wandering Jew" of Biblical myth, a shopkeeper who insisted that a man carrying a cross who stopped at his front door move on. The myth began with the shopkeeper being cursed to always wander the Earth until the man with the cross returns again.
The clues uncovered by The Librarian in his travels that span most of Europe, parts of China and Australia and the U.S., support the conclusion that the Wandering Jew does in fact exist. Not only does he exist, he’s found a work-around for part of his curse. Because he cannot tell anyone his true identity, The Librarian reasons, perhaps he has begun to leave clues as to his existence. And it is the collection of these hints and clues that compels the Librarian to continue searching. The search, the journey, is now The Librarian’s life.
“I was attracted to this play for a number of reasons,” Spradlin said. “First, it’s a really compelling story. It unravels like a mystery, with bits of evidences presented which soon begin to form a pattern. It’s fun to work out the puzzle.” He noted that the clues range from the mundane (a pair of trousers left behind in a Chinese laundry) to the more poignant (an audio recording made at the 1939 World’s Fair repeating the phrase “I am here.”
The second point of attraction for Spradlin was the underlying message in the play.
“Berger’s play, to me, focuses on our search for meaning, of human beings’ stubborn belief that we matter, even when faced with the inevitable nature of life and death,” Spradlin said. “All of us want to leave our mark, to be remembered, to somehow continue to exist even when we finally leave this vale of tears.” He made reference to the fact that he, himself, had recently retired and entered that phase of life where one is prone to retrospection as well as introspection.
Spradlin acknowledges that this may sound rather arch and high-brow to many. “This play is really humorous,” he notes. “Berger has a way with language that is remarkable. He paints such terrific images, while at the same time weaving in wry commentary on everyday occurrences. It’s a delight to perform, and I hope an equal delight to witness from the audience.”
Local audiences may recall Spradlin’s foray into the one-man play format with his performance of ‘Clarence Darrow’ in April of 2022. That play recounted the life of the famous trial attorney and many of his more famous cases. “I like the solo performance genre,” said Spradlin, “mainly because it really focuses the story in a way that dialogic plays don’t. The downside, of course, is there’s no net. If you go off the rails there aren’t fellow cast members on stage ready to throw you a line. That makes it a little more exhilarating.”
“Underneath the Lintel” has received major productions in the U.S., most notably on Broadway by Richard Schiff of “The West Wing” and “The Good Doctor” fame. More locally, Twin Cities acting icon Sally Wingert took on the female version of the play in a Theatre Latte Da production. There has been resounding critical acclaim for the play.
“… one of a handful of great plays written in the last five years … it’s an astonishingly beautiful piece of writing ….” said Steve Wiecking of the Seattle Weekly.
“It’s a satisfying mix of intelligent writing and quirky humor in a package that isn’t neatly wrapped up with pat answers,” said Jana J. Monji of the Los Angeles Times.
Spradlin is co-founder of the Actors Repertory Theatre (ART) which recently concluded the company’s second production, “The Outgoing Tide.” His work with “Lintel,” however, is a solo project made possible by an individual artist’s grant provided by the Five Wings Arts Council with funds from the McKnight Foundation. He has commissioned local director Beth Selinger for guidance on his performance, and Curtis Jendrow to design sound and projection images. “I’m grateful to both Beth and Curtis for stepping up to help me with this project,” said Spradlin. “I also have the help of Lorri Jager who is assisting me in collecting the many props needed for the play.”
Spradlin will be performing the play at the Chatfield Center for the Arts in Chatfield, Minnesota, on April 22. “I was fortunate to capture the attention of the center’s director and asked to bring the play to that community,” said Spradlin. “I’m hoping to find other touring opportunities as well.”
Tickets for the April 13 performance are available through the ART website at www.art4mn.org . Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door.
“I’m hoping to see a good number of people at the show,” said Spradlin, “mainly so I can get feedback on how I performed and use that to further hone the piece for the performance in Chatfield and, maybe, other venues as well. I’m really interested in hearing the audience’s take on the play and on what I am doing with it.”