By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Underneath the Lintel's subtitle describes the play: An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences. The evidences, "scraps" that fill a suitcase are clues, perhaps proofs, of a mystery a librarian dedicates his life to solving. And they are indeed impressively presented by Peter DeLaurier in this entrancing solo show at Lantern Theater.
Glen Berger's play at first seems merely a quaint story: one day an overdue book, a Baedeker's (these were old-fashioned travel guides) is returned to a library in Holland. It's not just overdue, it's 113 years overdue. But it had been checked out to someone whose residence is listed as being in China, and tucked between the pages is a laundry receipt for a pair of trousers never picked up; the laundry is in London. This intrigues the Librarian, a meek man who surprises himself by taking some vacation time to track down "our man" known only as "A."
But Underneath the Lintel turns out to be more than a quaint story, although there's plenty of gentle plot to sustain our interest. The first part of the title is the metaphysical key: the myth of the Wandering Jew, a man who stood underneath the lintel of his house when Jesus collapsed under the weight of the Cross, and instead of showing him compassion, told him to move along. The man's doom was to endlessly wander the earth. And so the play becomes an allegory of a man's endless quest for truth and his endless stamina; as the Librarian says over and over again, "We proceed." Life is an adventure, a journey, and we leave behind us a trail of scraps that proclaim, "I was here."
De Laurier, using a thick Dutch accent, sporting a grizzled beard and crumpled clothes, commands the stage, but commands it modestly. Kathryn MacMillan's sensitive direction keeps the show building in emotional investment, as well as keeping it moving across stage space and stage time. DeLaurier makes clever use of all the old-timey props: a blackboard and a slide projector, and, best of all, a date stamp.
Does anybody besides me remember those wonderful date stamps libraries used to use to check out books? With wheels within wheels, the little device contains, as the Librarian points out, all the dates that ever were and ever will be.