Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Underneath the Lintel
Theater Latté Da
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arthur's reviews of Caucasian-Aggressive Pandas and Other Mulatto Tales and Equivocation and Kit's review of Dat Black Mermaid Man Lady / The Show

Sally Wingert
Photo by Dan Norman
Since its premiere in 2001, Underneath the Lintel has become a very popular stage property, the outcome of its well-written script by Glen Berger, its appealing tale of mystery and adventure falling into the lap of the most everyday character, and its economy, calling for a modest physical production and only one actor—albeit, that one can hold an audience's rapt attention. In that time, the play has had several well-received productions in the Twin Cities. Theatre Latté Da, known for its exquisite renditions of musicals, commissioned a musical score by Frank London (The Klezmatics) to accompany the play, and then cast it with the most riveting of our local acting talents, Sally Wingert. The result is a tour-de-force performance that brings to light the contrast between yearning for meaning and connection in one's life to the drab and sorry realities of our passing days.

Underneath the Lintel, in this version, begins with a loud pounding at the emergency side exit from the theater. The pounding is insistent until a befuddled audience member rises to open it—and in storms our heroine, a Dutch librarian (Wingert), laden down with valises and banker boxes, which she carries up to the stage. This librarian (who remains unnamed) whips into her amazing story, using a large whiteboard and markers, a screen and slide projector, and various objects drawn from her parcels and tidily tagged with exhibit numbers, to augment the tale. And what a tale it is. Being very precise and rule-abiding in the running of her library, the librarian was rattled one day when a book appeared that was overdue—not by days, or weeks, or even a year, but 113 years.

Determined to make the responsible party accountable for their whopper of an overdue fine, the librarian searches the records which, she assures us, librarians never part with. Alas, the book was checked out under no more than an initial, "A." That would have ended matters but thumbing through the book, the librarian finds a dry-cleaning ticket for an item left off at a shop in London, 73 years ago. Well, there is nothing to do but sally off from Holland to London and retrieve the item, a pair of trousers. Searching the pockets of said trousers ... well, one thing leads to another, as the librarian goes reeling back and forth over continents and centuries in search of the answer, though at each step instead of answers there she finds only more questions.

In tandem with the breathless account of her chase for answers to the cosmic riddle in which she has plunged, the librarian digresses into the realities of her own life, a colorless sounding existence marked by her failure to seize the one opportunity for love that came her way. Her pursuit of answers is driven not only by the orderly rule-bound mind of a stern librarian, but by the desperate longing for a connection to lives far beyond and before her own, discover and make sense of her own part in the earth's unending cavalcade.

The story is too incredible to believe, in spite of the librarian's carefully tagged exhibit items. However, we certainly are drawn to believe in the librarian's total surrender to the conceits she has devised, as she totters between seeming visionary and lunatic. Note, the Librarian was written by Berger as a male role, but with the simple changes of pronouns and re-naming the lost love, it works completely played by a woman, particularly a woman such as Wingert, whose ability to transform into fully formed characters is a continuing source of delight to audiences.

London's musical backdrop adds immensely to the pleasure in this Underneath the Lintel. As the renowned leader of The Klezmatics, he not only has the joyful mysticism of Jewish klezmer music at his command, but draws on the folk traditions of many ethnicities, which serves the librarian's journey well. The music is performed by Dan Chouinard (piano, accordion, organ) and Natalie Nowytski (vocals and bass) from perches shadowed behind a scrim, dimly lighted to appear as if the sound is coming from a corner of the librarian's mind as she travels (or is she dreaming?) through time and space.

Director Peter Rothstein laces together the Librarian's narration, which ranges from frantic to mournful, astonished to wistful—with the gently inserted musical elements, the contributions of an insightful design team—with costume designer Willene Mangham's's creation of the librarian's hat, an inverted bucket with a narrow brim especially catching notice, into a moving and entrancing whole. There could be slow moments in this long narrative, but each passage is made to feel compelling throughout. Everything about the production works.

What of the significance of the titular "lintel," the piece of a doorway that crosses overhead, connecting the two uprights of a door frame? I have been told that beneath the lintel, that is, within a door frame, is a safe place to be positioned during an earthquake, as it will fend off falling debris. It is also a place of sheer possibility, where one is not in one room nor another, but in the moment of transition, always on the verge of whatever comes next. So, the lintel is a safe place, laden with possibility that is never realized, the place where one may glance at eternity but never hold it. It describes the pursuit, and relishing the possibility that one step more will bring her past the lintel and to fruition.

For a thoughtful story rendered through a sublime performance by Sally Wingert and Frank London's affecting music, see Underneath the Lintel.

Underneath the Lintelcontinues through July 1, 2018 at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $38.00 - $55.00. Student and Educator Rush tickets, $15.00, cash only, maximum of two tickets per valid ID one hour before curtain, pending availability. For tickets call 612-339-3303 or go to

Writer: Glen Berger; Original Music: Frank London; Director: Peter Rothstein; Music Director: Dan Chouinard; Scenic Design: Michael Hoover; Costume Design: Willene Mangham; Lighting Design: Barry Browning; Sound Design: John Acarregui; Projection Design: Kathy Maxwell; Properties Master: Abbee Warmboe; Dramaturg: Elissa Adams; Technical Director: Bethany Reinfeld; Stage Manager: Todd Kalina; Assistant Stage Manager: Chandler Jordan Hull

Cast: Sally Wingert (the librarian), Dan Chouinard (piano, accordion, organ), Natalie Nowytski (vocals, bass).

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