BWW Reviews: A.C.T.'s UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL Delights Through November 23

A.C.T.'s production of Underneath the Lintel, by Glen Berger opened this week, bringing to center stage a "twisty mystery of a tale," delightfully brought to life by Academy Award nominee David Strathairn (Lincoln, Good Night, and Good Luck and Scorched at A.C.T.). It's a 90 minute solo performance that brings warmth and heart to the role of an unassuming and quirky Dutch Librarian who has rented a theatre for the evening in order to "prove one life and justify another." It's a show you don't want to miss and you're in luck because Underneath the Lintel's advance ticket sales have extended the show through November 23.

Librarians take their jobs very seriously and thus are especially vexed by people who return overdue books. Imagine what would happen if a book was returned 113 years past it's due date. Oh, the conniptions this would cause in an otherwise staid staff of book stackers. Playwright Glen Berger gives us just such a premise in Underneath the Lintel (that's a doorway, by the way, and not a legume).

We meet the Librarian one rainy night in an empty theatre that he's rented for the evening. The stage is lit for him in seemingly random fashion (Lighting design by Alexander V. Nicholas) and Scenic designer Nina Ball has given us a set littered with old props and costumes that look like they've seen better days, giving the space a dilapidated and somewhat dreamlike feel, as if each piece had a story to tell.

In through a backdoor walks the librarian, carrying a suitcase of scraps, lovely evidences, he says, that he will use to tell us the mysterious and unbelievable identity of the offending book borrower. The book in question is a tattered travel guide and soon we're caught up in the Librarian's own journey of discovery as various clues embedded in the book pique his curiosity to the point of distraction and finally obsession. Just who is this man?

The audience acts as somewhat of a jury for the Librarian. Based on the evidence given, it seems we are tasked with giving a verdict as to purported identity of the miscreant as well as to give our tacit approval of the Librarian's quest.

Neatly tagged and numbered "evidences" are brought forth from his suitcase and presented with increasing excitement as we get closer and closer to the big reveal. Strathairn gives a riveting performance, creating a character whose small oddities and affectations come across as humorously endearing, yet ordinary and even mundane, allowing the audience to be lulled into the inital straightforwardness of the Librarian's quest.

But somewhere along the line the ordinary becomes extraordinary as the evidences pile up and point back through time to Jerusalem and a cobbler whose shop was located along the pathway to Golgotha where a Jewish man named Jesus would one day meet his fate. Could this cobbler be one and the same with the travel book borrower? Could such a tale be true, asks the Librarian of himself and of his audience.

There are a couple of loose threads in the narrative and we're left with more questions than answers, but perhaps that is the point. Berger gives us a story about a man who has stood underneath the lintel of his life never daring to venture forth. It isn't until the Librarian crosses that threshold and pursues what becomes his passion that he finally comes alive. In the process he comes face to face with the question of God and the meaning of life. In the end, there are no answers, except that we are here because we're here and we proceed as best we can. And, if we are daring, sometimes we dance with greatness.

Underneath the Lintel
Written by Glen Berger
Directed by Carey Perloff
Through Nov. 23
American Conservatory Theater

Photo Credit: Kevin Berne

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From This Author Linda Hodges

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