by Bryan Conger, Triad Stage Artistic Associate & Dramaturg for Underneath the Lintel
Glen Berger is an American playwright and Virginia native. Born into a Jewish family, he turned away from Judaism after bar mitzvah age. It was through klezmer music that he eventually rediscovered his faith as an adult. He says, “It was the thing I had been distancing myself from. I realized if I have issues with Judaism from a purely religious standpoint, maybe esthetically on a deep level I can come in the back door again.” It was also in that music that he found the beginnings of Underneath the Lintel.
Berger launched his playwriting career as a member of Annex Theatre in Seattle, but after hitting a rough patch in 1999, he found himself back living with his parents and feeling quite depressed. It was then that he began to search out a certain type of music that was in his head but he had not been able to name. He felt that if he could just find the right piece it would make everything better. He bought all sorts of music — from Gypsy music to Balkan accordion music — but nothing fit the sound he had in his mind. He finally went into a shop and found a tape by Dave Tarras, a klezmer clarinet virtuoso in the 1920s and 30s. He describes the discovery as “being hit by a truck.” It was in this slightly depressing music that the voice of the Librarian began to speak to him.
Around the same time, a friend who was curating the Yale Cabaret got in contact asking him if he had a play that they could produce. Berger said yes, and in four weeks’ time, he had written the first draft of Underneath the Lintel. He starred in the first production that played for three nights in August of 1999. The play was then produced in 2001 by The Actor’s Gang in Los Angeles and had its Off-Broadway premiere at Soho Rep later that same year. The play went on to show over 450 performances there and was named one of Time Out New York’s Ten Best Plays of 2001. It has been produced in over 55 cities in 8 countries, including several Jewish theater companies, and has received numerous awards and accolades.
In Underneath the Lintel, Berger uses the journey of one librarian to reflect our own journeys, beliefs, decisions, and existence. In an interview about the creation of the play Berger said, “more and more in my writing I’ve been trying to figure out how to encompass a large amount of time, how to get the proper scale of history and the universe. It’s been clearer and clearer to me that we can’t really get an understanding of the state of things until we’ve heard the perspective of how big the universe is, how old the earth is, and how long life has been around.” For Berger we all are small parts of something big and complicated, but “underneath the lintel is where each of us stands every day, every moment, of our life” and it is there that the most significant moments occur.