Underneath the Lintel
The unassuming actor Michael Joseph Mitchell is probably 15 minutes into Underneath the Lintel —Glen Berger’s monologue play about a fastidious Dutch librarian who treks the globe to solve the mystery of a book that’s been returned 113 years overdue—when it becomes clear that we’re allowed to enjoy ourselves. The reasons this isn’t understood from Lintel’s opening moments are twofold: The play takes a classroom-lecture format (usually a disciplinary hint that we’re supposed to learn something from our night in the theater), and the dense information the librarian spews at us is catalogued with the exhausting conspicuousness of a well-studied teacher’s pet who wants the whole class to know she did her homework.
But spry, cognizant trickster Mitchell rations his comic energy and paces his tussled performance masterfully. Because such enthusiasm for the heady material can’t be faked, you know Lintel may have vitamins and even bran but it’s so tasty you don’t mind. Berger’s story of a pinched, devoted pupil of the Dewey Decimal system whose travels awaken his dormant senses is transparent about its dramatic manipulation of easy metaphors (the legend of the wandering Jew is treated like a chew toy). But rather than forcing predictable lectern humor that could come at a passionate librarian’s expense, Berger lets in air by requiring broad physical gestures and manic maintenance of several props. Meanwhile, all the academic jargon serves a basic notion: If possible, your quest to rationalize your own futility should at least include some good cuisine and hot jazz. And, when possible, lively theater like this.