Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Underneath The Lintel
Also see Richard's review of Shining City
Glynis Bell plays a Dutch librarian in 1986, intellectually obsessed with the malefactor who checked out a Baedeker's travel guide in 1873. It turns out the reader got a lot of use out of that book in the years between.
Lana Pepper directs, sending Ms. Bell on a charming one-woman trek, first through Europe and then the world, in a search that will cost the librarian her job, and even her identityas she becomes one with her quarry. That transformation is the most wonderful part of the show, by far.
You may manage to stay one step ahead of the plot (I had that smug sense of cleverness one might get while sitting in the dark, unobserved). Underneath The Lintel is a detective story in the days before the Internetwhen librarians were the go-to source for all the information you might ever want to know. And if they didn't know, they always knew how to find out. They were strange and elegant and remarkable creatures, and Ms. Bell encompasses this entire hidebound universe, waiting pleasantly behind a library counter, with ease.
The script follows the legend of a cobbler sentenced to walk the Earth till the return of the Messiah, and how he (may have) left a trail of hints about his journey in the last 100 years or so. Our heroine is consumed as, one by one, the clues become more and more intriguing. And the best part is the giddy sense that our own lives could be totally hijacked at any moment by the merest outrage (here, an overdue library book) in an age devoted to outrage.
It's all a clever cerebral exercise, filled-in nicely with a dash of passion and pacing. But I'm beginning to think there must be an entire secret catalog of gestures devoted to one-person showsdenoting the proper, Delsarte-ian way to convey revelations, and impossible yearnings, and the approved manner of beating one's fists in the air to convey unbearable heartache to the heavens.
That's not very sympathetic, of course. Most of us are lucky to have two arms and two legs to serve as a personal "chorus line" when we're out there alone on stage, so there's not much more you can do, physically, in a one-man or one-woman show (plus a wandering musician). But, with a bookish solitary heroine, it occasionally seems this production is just trying to reinvent The Belle of Amherst all over again.
Perhaps because the role is more often given to a male actor, the level of intensity and the range of what's considered "appropriate" for one woman to do here (the scale of her love; and her passion; and sense of right and wrong) may sometimes be decimalized improperly, by an order or two of magnitude.
Through February 13, 2016. For more information visit www.newjewishtheatre.org.
* Member, Actors Equity Association