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The desire to be known: Lev Ricanati’s play “Underneath the Lintel”

<h6>Regina Roberts / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Regina Roberts / The Daily Princetonian

In “Underneath The Lintel,” written by playwright Glen Berger, the main and only character, a librarian, deserts their daily life to search for the owner of a book returned 113 years overdue. 

Even before the lights dimmed, Juliette Carbonnier ’24 begins writing on a chalkboard on stage. At first, the meaning behind the scribbled years and pictures seems unclear, but as the story unfolds, they become essential clues in the librarian’s hunt. Their investigation leads them to the myth of the Wandering Jew, who, according to the play, was cursed to walk the earth indefinitely. Yet this only leaves them with more questions. How can one trace the steps of someone who seems to be everywhere? In embodying the librarian, Carbonnier’s ability to showcase the librarian’s inquisitive nature as they travel around the world, leaves the audience wondering if they are actually in search of the myth, or for meaning in their own life.

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On his own understanding of the librarian, Lev Ricanati ’25, the producer, said, “The character goes through a lot of growth in this show. Every time I watch it, I see a different way that the librarian grows, and for me, that’s really intriguing as an audience member to see the ways that this librarian comes to terms with their existence.” Indeed, with the fast-paced nature of the show and the case that the librarian pieces together, we follow them down a rabbit hole that leads to their evolution. 

Ricanati notes that one of the main moments of growth is when “they go from not caring a lot about the Wandering Jew and caring a lot about Florence [the librarian’s rival] to realizing why they care about the Wandering Jew, which is about this idea of meaning and the existence of miracles.” The new perspective the librarian gains shows how interactions, even just with material objects, bring meaning to the human experience. For Ricanati, he said he enjoys “taking that journey with the librarian every time [he] sees it.”

As a part of this journey, when the librarian finds the graffitied words “I was here” on famous landmarks, they determine that the words are evidence that the Wandering Jew wants to be found. At this, the librarian recalls a World War I song and begins to sing, “We are here because we’re here.” The projection of the librarian’s inner thoughts, which were illustrated with flashing pictures on a projector and brought to life through melodies, created an interactive element to the show. In the librarian’s aim to be understood by the audience, the show highlighted the innate desire to be known by others.

For Ricanati, producing this show has been a meaningful experience. He originally saw the play five years ago at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and said, “I got home from that, bought the script, and have kind of carried it with me in my life since then. This is the first show I have produced as a lead producer, and I decided that I wanted to do something I am familiar with that is exciting for me.” 

Adding to the excitement within the show, the librarian discusses the 1939 World’s Fair, where people left possessions in a time capsule. They explain that at one of the booths, participants could record a message to leave among the items. Suddenly, with the hum of static and the buzz of the crowd in the recording, the speaker system above us played a familiar voice — their voice. Echoing the song and the graffiti, the recording says, “I was here, I was here, I was here…” While the librarian does not find all the answers they were looking for, they find a way to leave their mark. Drawing us into the past, the all-encompassing sound reminded us from our seats that all along, the librarian was searching for themself.

In a conversation about the importance of props within the performance, Ricanati said, “This is a show that relied a lot on texts, books, and visual imagery from books, so we got a lot of it from Firestone. The Baedeker [travel] guide, one of the central props of the show, I actually checked out from Firestone, and it is an 1800s Baedeker guide. It’s beautiful to do a show with that kind of material, which really you can’t do outside of Princeton.”

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The use of authentic books and the small-scale nature of the theater created an intimate look into the librarian’s world and mind. Even though they were traveling around the world, with the guide and the texts they used as evidence, they still had the library with them. Ricanati said that the location of the play in the Rocky-Mathey Theatre was intentionally chosen to contribute to this feeling. He “wanted to bring [the play] into a space that didn’t feel like a theater, but more like a library.” The production process emphasized the importance of creating an atmosphere that parallels the story’s message, to facilitate an experience where the audience is searching alongside the main character.

Ricanti also noted that collaboration was key to the production process, which started last May. When searching for student groups to collaborate with, he says that the “show’s themes of Judaism and complicated relationships to Judaism” led him to reach out to the leadership of the CJL Play, which puts on an ensemble play every year. By partnering with the CJL Play, Ricanti was able to make his debut as a lead producer, working on a show that has been significant in his life. 

Throughout the performance, instead of being defined by their interactions with others, the librarian is defined by their interactions with books, letters, and memories. Before Carbonnier began her hour-and-a-half monologue, the writing on the chalkboard had outlined all the major clues in the librarian’s discovery. However, we as the audience could not piece them together or understand their significance until the show ended. Even though the librarian had no dialogue with any other characters, they were connected to the audience through the tangibility of the props, setting, and audio. In the end, the librarian adds one final scribble to the already-filled chalkboard — “I was here.”

“Underneath the Lintel” was presented in the Rocky-Mathey Theatre from Nov. 19 through 20.

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The one-woman show “Underneath The Lintel,” starring Carbonnier, was produced by Ricanati in conjunction with the Center for Jewish Life (CJL) Play and was directed by Wasif Sami ’25.

Regina Roberts is a contributing writer for The Prospect and the Podcast section at the Prince. Please direct any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com. 

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