Glen Berger’s Underneath the Lintel works on a number of levels, but where this play ultimately succeeds or fails is in the performance of its sole character, the Librarian. In the current production on Pacific Theatre’s stage, Nathan Schmidt is indeed its biggest strength.
[pullquote]Actor Nathan Schmidt rises to the challenges of the Librarian, walking a fine line between the spiritual and physical, there are moments of pure lucidity that are contrasted by the murkiness of his obsession. A terrific story-teller, director Paul F Muir rarely lets him rest, much like the character he is trying to find…[/pullquote]At its very base level, Underneath the Lintel is a recounting of the Librarian’s worldwide quest to “prove a life and justify another” after a book is returned to the library 113 years late. Revealing a string of seemingly innocuous and unconnected clues, the Librarian takes us on his journey with a few slides, a tape recorder and a steamer trunk filled with the clues he has collected during his journey. Without wishing to spoil the revelation of the two lives he is attempting to “prove and justify”, it will not be surprising to know that it has big religious undertones given its run as part of this faith-based theatre company’s season.
But while the non-secular takes centre stage much of the time – whether you take the quest quite literally (discovering truth), more spiritually (seeing the Divine in everything), or purely religious (realizing faith is still a huge part of belief) – playwright Berger also touches on the secular though an exploration of mental illness as the Librarian’s obsession becomes so all-encompassing that it manifests very real consequences.
Actor Nathan Schmidt rises to the challenges of the Librarian, walking a fine line between the meta and the physical, there are moments of pure lucidity that are contrasted by the murkiness of his obsession. A terrific story-teller, director Paul F Muir rarely lets Schmidt rest, much like the character he is trying to find (a clue).
What makes this production more interesting is in the decision to present a more ordered and fastidious characterization of the Librarian. Where a previous version seen in 2010 at the Chutzpah Festival offered up a dishevelled Librarian and a chaotic space filled with papers and objects, here both the Librarian and Jerod Fahlman’s set design are almost fussy. It is a nice juxtaposition against Berger’s sometimes frantic script and speaks volumes to what can lie beneath the veneer.
But the last word always remains with the Librarian who helps sum-up Underneath The Lintel quite nicely as he comments on his quest: “this was getting interesting; not riveting, but interesting”. And a big reason it remains interesting is in Nathan Schmidt’s terrific performance.
Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger. Directed by Paul F Muir. A Pacific Theatre presentation of a Rosebud Theatre Production. On stage at Pacific Theatre (1440 West 12 Ave, Vancouver) until January 31. Visit https://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.