Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
Writing, Linguistics, and Creative Process
The 36th Line is a full-length drama that uses humor, sometimes bordering on slapstick, to diffuse the intensity of family obligations and a daughter’s need to break free of them. It pits co-dependent behavior, an addiction to being needed, against the ancient Talmudic legend of the Lamed Vov Tzadikim (ל"ו צַדִיקִים), thirty-six righteous people, colloquially known as lamed vovnicks. The alphanumeric Hebrew letters lamed and vov equal thirty-six.
The Talmudic statement pertaining to the Lamed Vov claims there are thirty-six people in every generation whose role it is to justify the existence of mankind in the eyes of God. In his novel The Last of the Just, Andre Schwarz-Bart explains, “If just one of them were lacking, the sufferings of mankind would poison even the souls of the newborn, and humanity would suffocate with a single cry. For the Lamed-Vov are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, pour all our griefs.” Also known as the Tzadikim Nistarim (צַדִיקִים נִסתָּרים), meaning “the hidden righteous,” the lamed vovniks live unknown to their neighbors or even themselves. Tradition holds that if a person claims to be one of the lamed vov, it would be proof that they are not. A true lamed vov tzadik would be far too humble to believe that such a thing is even possible.
The 36th Line is a play about Shellie Weiss Lindstrom, a woman in her thirties who is struggling to break free of family obligations and perceived responsibilities, including care of her handicapped sister, Suki, a task her mother has prepared her for all her life.
Shellie is at a crossroads, having to choose between daily involvement with the demands of caring for her increasingly needy family or abandoning them and moving to Texas with her husband.
Thematically, the play asks a question: Is the need to care for others, even to one’s own detriment, divinely determined or self-appointed?
In the final moments of the play, while one daughter is released from her perceived bonds, the other, overlooked and underestimated, is poised to receive a blessing. Whether that blessing is real or imagined is up to each individual to decide.
Striano, Hope, "The 36th Line" (2020). Master of Fine Arts in Professional Writing Theses. 47.
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