This production of the off-Broadway hit "Underneath the Lintel" begins with a journey. From the boxoffice, we are directed to walk down the block, around the comer, past several shops and to a door that leads up a narrow, dilapidated stairway into a lecture hall. There, on a simple platform, in a room decorated to resemble any anonymous VFW-style stage, a former Dutch librarian gives an illustrated presentation, in 19th Century style, of his peculiar, obsessive journey in pursuit of the real history and meaning of a travel book. The book was returned to his library, unceremoniously left in the drop box, exactly 113 years overdue. From an old suitcase, the librarian withdraws small scraps of "lovely evidence" to help him explain the meanings he has discovered from his quest.
Playwright Glen Berger uses this homely conceit and unlikely concept to fashion a most compelling and intriguing one-man show. By way of the circuitous and inferential path he pursues in search of the book's true history, we uncover rather profound answers to questions of identity, circumstance, connection, passion and commitment. It's all very loose and informal in presentation, but exceptionally structured and substantial in content. The connection between the meaning of the book and the meaning of the man speaking is movingly explicated by Todd Jefferson Moore's splendidly dimensional performance.
Mr. Moore is just right for the style and tone of the piece. With the manner of an impoverished academic, and the urgency of a Victorian explorer, he charts our path toward meaning. For the book that meaning is history, for himself it's a validation of his very existence, and for us it is a reminder that in every moment of our 1ives we face the choice of giving up certainty and safety for the risks and rewards of authenticity. His goal is, "to prove one life and justify another, with scraps". That other life turns out to be, possibly, the mythical "Wandering Jew", who by inference may also be this same itinerant lecturer. But that is a conclusion drawn late in the evening, and only by highly speculative and inferential means. Our prime evidence, and the only final conclusion to all questions is the man before us. It is for us to determine what is relevant and what is random, what is consequence and what coincidence, what is important and what inconsequential.
The librarian simply presents the evidence found in his own search. He argues for belief that results from personal inquiry, rather than mere acceptance. There is nothing arrogant in his manner, and he seems most substantial at precisely those times when he faces his most personal inadequacies. The fear of love and intimacy, the potential that his passion has been foolish, the anxiety that what is all important to him may seem insignificant to the audience.
At those moments the modest humanity of his private truth leads an amusing entertainment into much deeper places, and truly becomes our own quest for meaning and identity. Within the modest, commonplace structure of this lecture, exceptionally fine writing and the deep conviction of the actor create an 80 minute production that is imaginative, stimulating, deeply conceived and exceptionally moving. "Underneath the Lintel" may be yet another one-person show, but it achieves the first goal of all drama, and that is to make the one person ourselves.
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