As Eastern European violin music begins to play, the Librarian (Nathan Schmidt) makes his entry onto the intimate Pacific Theatre stage for Rosebud Theatre’s guest production of Glen Berger’s Underneath the Lintel. Performed in one act (at roughly 85 minutes), we see Schmidt fumbling with a screen, then a slide projector.
There’s further futzing as he aims to set the projector at the proper angle; trying to plug it in provides yet another challenge, and so we’re introduced to this frenzied character as he goes about proving the existence of man through solving one long string of mysteries and coincidences.
Schmidt makes almost immediate contact with the audience, settling us in for an intimate performance. What’s in that big wooden trunk to the side of the stage? Why, it’s filled with scraps (aka evidence), the first being an antique map that’s laid on the floor as our lead character gets to the business of piecing an enormous puzzle together, one that spans centuries.
He works (or did work, before losing his job anyway) at a library in Hoofddorp, Holland; his daily task involved monitoring overnight library books returned through the library door’s slot. The one piece of property he escapes from that job with is a date stamper, significant in that it contains every date known to man — and the birthdates of everyone in the theater.
The story begins after he discovers a 113-year-overdue Baedeker travel guide. He’s even more riled up at the fact that the book was put into the overnight bin while the library was still open. His frenzied pace remains so for the play’s duration. The next discovery is a 73-year-old claim ticket for a pair of trousers from a Chinese laundry shop in London. The pants are intriguing enough for this single librarian to head over to London for further exploration.
The Librarian’s after getting to the bottom of a mystery that’s so complex (often involving nonsensical details), it takes him on a quest to faraway lands (including Germany, Australia, China, New York City and London) leading to new discoveries and yet more evidence. Director Paul F. Muir allows him to get out from a mundane life and to explore the world, away from the safety of our “Lintels” and to live fully. The fact that God may very well go to any length – even to the ends of the Universe – to get our attention is fully demonstrated as Schmidt scours the corners of the globe to solve his mystery.
Underneath the Lintel is a frantic push towards making sense of life; what we mainly witness on stage is a man frustrating himself to no end trying to discover some great hidden meaning. Everything to him is a coincidence and keeps him on track to solving the mystery he’s evidently created for himself. A wandering soul himself, the Librarian seeks to find out whether the Wandering Jew actually exists as pieces of evidence continue to be displayed for the audience to bear witness.
The simple stage (via Set Designer Jerod Fahlman) contains a black board, wooden chair, and the aforementioned trunk, adorned with stickers from around the globe. While Underneath the Lintel may begin as a compelling story (and to his credit, Schmidt puts in a passionate performance), it wasn’t enough to keep us captivated for very long. Imagine our surprise to learn that the production was voted among the Top 10 Plays of 2001 by Time Out NY Magazine. Chacun à son goût.
Directed by Paul F. Muir, Underneath the Lintel continues at the Pacific Theatre through January 31.
Photos by Emily Cooper.