Underneath the Lintel

Like its subject matter, playwright Glen Berger's Underneath the Lintel, now being performed at the Aurora Fox, is a moving target. Taking place "here" and "now" as a lecture given by a librarian, the time periods in the play expand as the calendar marches on and productions spring up across the country.

Photo of James Nantz as The Librarian
James Nantz as The Librarian
Photo credit: Eric Weber
James Nantz plays a Dutch librarian who, among his duties, checks in the borrowings that are returned via the book drop. He is a persnickety bureaucrat, very adamant about the rules. He tells us that the book drop is not for overdue books, only those being returned on time.

So, when he receives a beaten-up copy of a Baedeker's Travel Guide that is, at this rendering, 126 years overdue, he is outraged, and driven to track down the borrower at all costs. It all begins innocently enough, with the librarian finding a bookmark in the guidebook—a ticket to a Chinese laundry in London. He has some vacation time coming, so he sets off in search of the transgressor.

Part mystery, part travelogue, and part history, Underneath the Lintel becomes a philosophic coming-of-age tale when the trail of the scofflaw begins to traverse the continents and stretch across the centuries. Suddenly, with some key evidence, the librarian realizes the notorious identity of his elusive prey.

Nantz tells the librarian's tale with the zeal of a peripatetic bloodhound increasingly excited by the ever-warming scent of his prey. Under the direction of Terry Dodd, he uses props of a map, a projector and screen, a steamer trunk, and a blackboard to keep an engaging pace and lend credence to his character's seemingly impossible claims. As the librarian evolves from erudite lecturer to vigilant prosecutor to spiritual seeker, the focus of his journey slowly turns from an outward investigation into a inward quest.

It is at this point, however, that Berger's play loses its mystery and steam: the playwright fails to convince us that the lesson of the culprit's life has but the vaguest metaphorical connection to existential questions that punctuate the conclusion of the story; a very entertaining story then becomes a less than compelling existential conundrum. It should have been enough that we are all Underneath the Lintel. It runs through November 9th at the Aurora Fox Arts Center. 303-361-2910.

Bob Bows


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