Review: UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL Examines a Biblical Myth via Evidence Collected About Long-Overdue Library Book
When a reclusive librarian (brilliantly portrayed by Arye Gross in a 90-minute tour-de-force performance) discovers a 113-year overdue book in the night slot, curiosity compels him to pursue the borrower. After all, why would anyone who discovers such a long-overdue book just deposit it in the night slot and not bring it inside to the front desk? Surely the original person who checked the book out is no longer alive, so how did the small travel guide manage to make its way back to the library from which it was taken so long ago?
The plot unfolds during a public presentation during which The Librarian recounts an impressive amount of Lovely Evidences he accumulated during his worldwide search for answers about the person who had the book, truly a most whirlwind journey that occupied his every waking minute. His obsessive search causes the loss of his long-held and beloved employment as he researches for what he considers to be one of the great mysteries of humanity. Director Steven Robman perfectly paces the show to keep you on the edge of your seat as you ponder just what the gathered evidence seems to prove.
Called "powerfully human and ultimately sublime," Glen Berger's UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL reminds us that the joy is in the journey itself. Obviously, Berger worked long hours to compile an intriguing story taking place over much of history, making the possibility of its truth believable. Its star Arye Gross is an enthusiastic story-teller, using his ability to truthfully reveal the Librarian's deep-felt emotions from within his soul, as well as his ever-present need to examine, plan, and celebrate his many joyful discoveries during his journey.
The first question you might ask is "What is a Lintel?" According to several internet dictionary sites, a lintel is "A horizontal supporting member, installed above an opening such as a window or a door, that serves to carry the weight of the wall above it." It refers to the incident during his journey when he realizes the man who MAY have had the book all this time could be the "wandering Jew" of Biblical myth, a shopkeeper who insisted "a man carrying a cross" who stopped at his front door "move on." The myth began with the shopkeeper being cursed to always wander the Earth until the "man with the cross" returns again.
Much of the evidence the Librarian collects supports his claim that the old and unkempt wanderer, as so many interviewed describe the man to him, is told not only with words but also with very informative projections (designed by Jason H. Thompson) of places visited and clues revealed along the way. Like the long-overdue book, the story unfolds as a real page-turner you can't put down, one which challenges you to follow along as the tale unfolds. And thanks to Gross, you will be totally pulled into this lonely man's obsession with discovering the truth, no matter what.
More and more, his belief in who the wanderer was seems to be true. But if it is, does it prove the Bible story/myth is a true, and if so, does it also prove God exists? As you listen and formulate your opinion on whether or not his evidences make sense, be prepared that in the end there is no real definite answer, leaving the audience to decide for themselves whether his evidence collected proves his theory.
The Geffen's production of UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL marks the first major staging of the play in Los Angeles since its debut in 2001 by The Actors' Gang. The Off-Broadway production at New York's Soho Playhouse that same year ran for more than 450 performances and garnered a Drama Desk nomination for its star. The play has been produced more than 350 times across the U.S. and abroad and has been translated into eight languages. And given the intensity of its story, no doubt this play will continue to wander the Earth for many years to come.
UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL: An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences continues through Sunday, November 19, 2017, on Tuesday - Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. in the Audrey Skirball Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets priced at $25 - $90, available in person at the Geffen Playhouse box office, by phone at 310.208.5454 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org. Rush tickets for each day's performance ($35 General / $10 Student) are made available to the general public 30 minutes before show time at the box office.
The run will feature the Geffen's popular Talk Back Tuesdays, which give theater lovers a chance for a deeper conversation to discuss plot, character themes and other questions directly with the artists in a post-show Q&A from the stage. I encourage you to take advantage of that opportunity!
Photos by Chris Whitaker