Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Add the play Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger to your Solo Show Reading List

Underneath The LintelRecently, a newly acquired friend and prominent actor/director/writer in the Pittsburgh area turned me on to a little solo show called UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL by Glen Berger.

Glen Berger also wrote a short play I directed years ago called "I WILL GO...I WILL GO..." about a man trying to cross the English Channel and going deaf by the end of it from the cold water.  I loved his writing and loved the theatricality and style of that play.  So I knew I would probably like UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL.

And I must say I'd put it on my required reading list for solo plays--right up there with KRAPP'S LAST TAPE or KICKING A DEAD HORSE or THOM PAINE (BASED ON NOTHING) as well as the others I mentioned in an earlier post.

Why do I love it?  One, it's not your usual confessional solo show of "Why I hate my father" or something god-awful like that.  It deals with existential questions about the existence of god, of faith, and tells a story of the everyday events and how they collide with the universe.  A character goes on a true journey, not just physically but mentally and spiritually and the audience can't help but be swept up in the magnitude of the story.  The writing is lyrical and at times quite funny. 

Actually, I was hooked even from the description of the set.  It takes place as a lecture in an auditorium or stage between shows, saying:
"props and other detritus from other shows can litter the back of the stage...Over the course of the evening the 'lecture' should imperceptibly turn into "theater".  The detritus, unnoticed and seemingly unimportant at first, can unexpectedly take on significance, alluding to scenes and history mentioned in the play.  The lighting can become warmer, more "theatrical", etc, and what seemed like a random strewing of objects, or a random water stain on the wall, for instance, can turn out to not be so random after all."

I knew just from reading this that this playwright was clear of his vision for the story and for the journey he wanted to take his audience on.  I knew I was in good hands. 

(And the writer side of me was envious of Berger's clarity and focus and his damned talent at his craft!)

What's also quite lovely is that Berger takes a small thing--an overdue library book--and explodes it into some with greater meaning.  We always talk about "high stakes' in the theater, but we forget what that can actually mean.  Sometimes even the smallest actions could lead to bigger consequences.  It all depends on how it affects the characters and disturbs their world.

Here's the plot summary from Alexis Soloski of the Village Voice:

On an inauspicious morning at a Dutch library, a librarian makes an unexpected find in the overnight return box. ...a much mistreated Baedeker's guidebook 123 years overdue. Even without compound interest, this tardiness merits a tidy fine, and in UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL, playwright Glen Berger's latest, our librarian hero determines to track down the miscreant. Berger's monologue, subtitled The Mystery of the Abandoned Trousers, hardly slacks. Mailing a fine to the long-lived scofflaw in question proves difficult, as the borrower listed his name only as `A'. In an effort to run him to earth, the librarian, who has never left his native town of Hoofddorp, zips to China, Australia, Germany, and America. He eats sweets, greases palms, sees Les Miserables in three languages, and fritters away all his accumulated vacation days. He has the time of his life, or perhaps for the first time actually has a life.

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