Sally Wingert in Theater Latté Da’s production of Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger. Photo by Dan Norman.
This retrospective review revisits Theater Latté Da’s recent production of Underneath the Lintel, which closed Sunday.
When staging the solo play Underneath the Lintel with Theater Latté Da, Director Peter Rothstein sought a different take on Glen Berger’s popular play. He started by commissioning Frank London, a founding member of The Klezmatics, to provide music for the show. The result is a haunting musical score with a distinctly Yiddish/klezmer sound that underlies the play’s intriguing detective storyline. The divine Sally Wingert (does she ever take a vacation?) glows in this one-person play in the role of The Librarian. (We never learn her name.)
The Librarian walks in through an outside stage door with boxes and bags of files. She announces she is there for one night only to share what she has learned in her investigation. The investigation started when she was working in a safe, pensioned position with a Dutch library. She worked in the area of library returns, slowly waiting her turn to move up to the next higher position. One day, however, her quiet safe life became derailed one day when a book was returned 113 years late. The Librarian was not going to let this late return go without a fine, triggering a multi-year quest to find the “A” who originally signed out the book. Her only clue? The P.O. Box to which she sent the fine notice and a 73-year-old receipt for a laundry in England that was found in the book. When the library refuses to finance her sleuthing trip to the English laundry, she uses her vacation time to find the delinquent borrower.
The Librarian collects numerous object/clues over the years, which she presents in a Rachel Maddow-style delivery. The audience follows the saga of each of the individual items for a period of time before starting getting the idea of where this detective story is going. Along the way we learn of The Librarian losing her civil service library job as well as the legend of the Wandering Jew. The mystery holds the audience’s attention until the last 15 minutes, when the Librarian becomes manic about her overabundance of clues and the audience loses track of where the clues are going. But the show returns to a steadier pace near the end, when Wingert deftly turns the final moments over to the music.
The musical score is played by Dan Chouinard on the piano, accordion, and chaplain’s organ. Chouinard does a masterful job of raising and lowering the volume of the music to complement Wingert’s speaking, especially with the different musical styles as the Librarian starts hop scotching across the globe. Natalie Nowytski assists with the bass, but more importantly provides the oftentimes exhilarating vocals woven throughout the show.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote that “life is a journey, not a destination,” describes the play’s theme. The Librarian’s secure life had little meaning. Her life was “under the lintel” – the safest part of the house. Once given the thread (or late slip) of inspiration, she abandons all financial security to crisscross the continents in her quest for the elusive borrower. She may never find her delinquent borrower, but as she chases the clues, her soul dances.
Theater Latté Da’s production of Under the Lintel concluded its run at the Ritz Theater on July 1, 2018.
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