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Reviews

Underneath the Lintel

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Presented by Scott Morfee, Dana Matthow, and Tom Wirtshafter at the Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St., NYC. Opened Oct. 23 for an open run.

Glen Berger's "Underneath the Lintel" is quirky; its restless heart renders it endearing. The story of a librarian (T. Ryder Smith) who stumbles upon a book 113 years overdue is practically David Ivesian; Berger's play, however, reveals a humanitarian voice.

You can see it early on, with the librarian's controlled but palpable outrage—that is, if you can imagine the indignant outrage of a Dutch librarian who has rarely, if ever, ventured from his comfortable perch or familiar hamlet. You can see it later as the librarian commences a whirlwind, worldwide journey to reconstruct the epic story behind this violation of borrowing privileges—ludicrous, yes, but just absurd enough to work. That the book in question is a Baedeker's Travel Guide is a wonderfully metaphorical idea.

In lecture format (the blackboard reads "An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences"), the librarian presents carefully labeled scraps of evidence from his search. Scrap by scrap, playwright and actor make merry with baffling, obtuse plot points in what becomes a rollicking, bewildering orgy of minutiae and arcana. Director Randy White brings a naturalistic serenity to his staging, sanding down the rougher moments and playing each beat with a maestro's precision. Berger's play, in the end, may more neatly fit the contours of an extended skit than an 80-minute jaunt around the world, but it works nonetheless.

A versatile Off-Off-Broadway fixture, Smith makes a marvelous librarian; he refuses to devolve into caricature, the natural trap. As he hunts down the history of book and borrower—visiting Germany, London, New York, Sydney, even China—watching him portray a man whose horizons become ever so slowly broadened is one the production's salient pleasures. Watching him learn the truth behind the tale is another.

Lauren Helpern's set—pieces, really—are often very amusing. Tyler Micoleau's gentle lighting and Paul Adams' sound design smartly address the particular needs of this rather peculiar play.

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