By Glen Berger. Directed by Paul F. Muir. A Rosebud Theatre production, presented by Pacific Theatre. At Pacific Theatre on Saturday, January 10. Continues until January 31
Right at the top of Underneath the Lintel, the solo performer shows us the posters he’s made up promising an “Impressive Presentation”. The billing is accurate, but incomplete: the play is also funny, thought-provoking, and moving.
Glen Berger’s script takes the form of a lecture by a retired librarian, whose name we never learn, telling the story of a remarkable personal quest. The solitary librarian lives a life circumscribed by routine—he rarely leaves his small town in Holland and has never left the country—until one day, when a book comes through the overnight return slot that is 113 years overdue. The book, a Baedeker travel guide signed out to someone listed only as A., contains a bookmark: an unclaimed laundry ticket from 73 years earlier. Could these be tokens of the same person, and if so, who? The librarian becomes obsessed with finding out. His search eventually takes him far outside his comfort zone, both geographically and spiritually.
Under Paul F. Muir’s direction, Nathan Schmidt’s librarian is a thoroughly captivating character, simultaneously self-aware and oblivious as he begins to shake off the carapace of his routines and awaken to new possibilities. Berger gives him a voice that is sometimes sardonic, sometimes reverent, and often poetically humorous: when he first sees the date in the overdue book, he says, “My eyes suddenly sprang out of my head and rolled about the floor and under the table.” And he laments that he could have stayed content in his habits “if Mr. A-period hadn’t kept doing the backstroke across my brain”. Schmidt’s delivery is crystal-clear, and he’s a warm and engaging guide to the mystery he’s determined to solve.
Scenic designer Jerod Fahlman creates a serviceably minimalist set: a blackboard, a screen on which images are projected, and a big trunk containing the “scraps” of evidence the librarian has collected. These scraps are poignant reminders of the seeming insignificance of an individual life in relation to the vastness of the cosmos, an idea that recurs throughout Berger’s script. “All death has a way of making life seem small,” the librarian muses at one point. In following the exuberant piecing together of one extraordinary set of scraps, Underneath the Lintel is a profoundly life-affirming experience.