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A CurtainUp London Review
Underneath the Lintel
The play tells the story of a librarian who finds in the overnight box, a facility for returning books without paying overdue fines, a copy of a Baedeker's Guide which was due back 113 years ago. The tidy mind of the librarian sets him on a quest at first designed to claim the rather large fine. Ultimately he goes on a journey which makes him re-examine the nature of humanity. He finds pieces of ephemera, like a ticket for a dry cleaners a receipt for a pair of trousers, clues which start him on a trail which becomes an obsession. It did seem all rather improbable to me, surely someone who borrowed a book that length of time ago would be dead . . . but that is where I was wrong.
Richard Schiff plays the librarian in a jacket which is overly long, his hair is overly long and his weighty facial expression too is overly long. He starts the show in a strange accent, more East European I think than the Dutch which we are told is the nationality of the Librarian. But he has good stage presence as from an old suitcase, he pins up on the green blotting paper coloured notice boards the evidence he has accumulated on his travels. I particularly liked the evocative image of the time stamp when the Librarian tells us that every date ever is in his stamp. He reminds us that the dates of his birth and death are in there, he just doesn't know what the second one is yet. To make his point, and using it like a roulette wheel, he generates two random dates and retrieves from the trivia of his librarian's mind what happened on those days. This vignette shows what Richard Schiff can do with the imagery of fine writing, but these moments are all too rare.
Good lighting shifts and music help to break up the ninety minute performance. The theme of the Wandering Jew, the man who drove Christ away from his shop doorway and is condemned to wander the earth until the second coming is really an excuse for the librarian to re-examine his own life, his regrets, the loss of a girl friend, "How was I to know she was the one?" he asks himself. It may be that fans of the Da Vinci code and conspiracy theorists will enjoy the theme of Underneath the Lintel but for me I left the theatre wishing that Richard Schiff could have found a more worthy vehicle for his remarkable acting talent.
Macey Levin was more impressed when he reviewed the play in 2001 for Curtain Up. To read that review go here
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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