(“Underneath The Lintel” plays at the Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley Saturdays and Sundays at 3 and Mondays and Wednesdays at 8 from July 20 through August 4th, 2013.)
Having recently seen and reviewed Just Theater’s “A Maze“, I came with high expectations to their second production of the summer, Glen Berger’s “Underneath The Lintel.” I was not disappointed. It is quite wonderful.
Knowing playwright Glen Berger’s background as a writer of children’s television and the author of the book for Broadway’s “Spiderman” does not prepare us adequately for this brilliant, philosophical bit of theatre of the absurd. “Underneath The Lintel” is an intellectual joy ride, full of witty puzzles, always entertaining but packing a considerable punch.
As the play opens, a clownish Librarian is preparing to deliver a lecture in a rented hall. It is important to him, and he seems to believe that what he has to say will somehow justify his life. It is an absurdist premise, reminiscent of Ionesco’s “The Chairs”. Comparisons to Ionesco and other absurdist masters are not out of place; Berger is playing in the big leagues.
Mick Mize, as the Librarian, is a superb physical presence, which is not surprising considering his recent prestigious stint as a clown with the Cirque de Soleil. His physical comedy is subtle, not slapstick, but carefully observed and quite funny.
As the lengthy monologue (it will continue for well over an hour) begins, we learn that the Librarian is a Librarian manque. He has lost his job and with it his identity and his dignity. But he feels himself the victim of fate and is determined to explain his position. He admits, at the start, that he is a petty thief. When he left the library, he stole the date stamp he used to mark the return of library books. Holding it up, he waxes poetic about the fact that it contains every possible date in history. Turning it at random, he tells of various historical events. It is an astonishing feat of writing and performance, making poetry out of this most prosaic of tools.
We learn that the Librarian has spent years exploring a mystery: a book (a travel guide) was returned to the library two hundred years late. How is this possible? Was it returned by the great grandchild of the original borrower? From where? What is its history? He sets out to solve the puzzle and begins to suspect that the borrower of the book is still alive.
His quest to solve this mystery will lead him down many curious byways and esoteric mysteries. He begins recording numbers on the chalkboard he uses for his lecture. He hangs evidence on a clothesline. He becomes paranoid with conspiracy theories.
And yet, it all makes a kind of weird sense. We enter the mystery with him and follow its trail with fascination.
In the end, he will reach some astonishing conclusions about the nature of human life and our existential dilemma.
I resist the temptation, in this review, to provide any more details because I don’t want to spoil the fun. But, trust me, if you have any taste for intellectual wit and adventure in the theatre, you will enjoy this ride!
The play is a showcase for excellent acting, and Mr. Mize proves himself an actor who is up to the task. Although he must hold the stage with a monologue lasting more than an hour, there is never a dull moment, and the laughs just keep on coming, along with the philosophy.
Christine Cook’s superb costume design and Shan Caroll’s extremely clever props and setting make more than a little contribution to the excellence of this production. Mina Morita’s direction keeps the pace varied and the complexities clear (insofar as that’s possible).
Very highly recommended.
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“Underneath the Lintel” by Glen Berger, produced by Just Theater. Director: Mina Morita. Set and props: Shaun Carroll. Costumes: Christine Cook. Sound: Madeliene Oldham.
The Librarian: Mick Mize
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