He does it all: David Graham in “Underneath the Lintel” PHOTO COURTESY MICKEY ELLIOT/LITTLE FISH THEATRE
One-person plays are bold enterprises, taking essentially a storyteller relating a first-person narrative and plying (and playing) it with the necessities of drama – conflict, scene, movement, dramatic arc and dramatic tension to name a few. When done well, it can be an immensely rewarding experience. “Underneath the Lintel,” by TV writer and playwright Glen Berger, is just such a rewarding experience in the hands of Little Fish Theatre, director Patrick Vest and, of course, actor David Graham.
The conceit is that we are attending a lecture entitled “An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences,” a seeming bad translation, though alliterative, by a Dutch librarian about his exploits regarding a 133-year overdue book. As the story progresses, through the librarian’s enthusiastic presentation of evidence, it does indeed grow more lovely and impressive.
At first, the librarian says, he was peeved that someone would have the temerity to return an overdue book in the overnight slot. Then, when he discovers just how long the book had been out, the normally reserved and even meek librarian becomes obsessed with finding out who checked it out and how it came to be returned.
The book contains markings in the margins as well as a century-old dry-cleaning receipt from a London laundry. These clues, or evidences, launch the librarian on his Odyssean quest, and launch the clever mystery at the heart of the play. Further evidences drive the librarian to develop a case that the book borrower must be none other than the Wandering Jew, a product not of the Bible but of medieval myth.
His quest turns the librarian into quite the Wanderer himself, as he travels the world gathering his lovely evidences about this ancient, wandering book borrower. Along the way, he develops a special appreciation for God, whose presence is revealed to the librarian along with the reality of the myth.
It’s hard to imagine the play with the gaunt men, such as David Strathairn, who have often played the Librarian. Graham brings a likeable and empathetic rotund Dutch eccentric whose failings and bad choices and obsessions are revealed in time with the other evidences. We are eager to travel with him, and to believe his mysterious revelations. Graham captures us immediately with a knowledgeable, sweet and insightful mental meandering through all the possible dates that are on his official library date stamper. There is an ego-less simplicity to his musings that are far preferable to the professorial flair of Strathairn, for instance.
Director Vest wisely keeps the pace lively, working the librarian’s little tangents into the action smoothly and seamlessly. Graham’s choices and bits are wonderful, bringing out comedic elements in his enthusiastic demonstrations of his evidences, or his understanding of the insanity of his desire to follow the book’s and the Wandering Jew’s trail even to Australia.
This bold enterprise is compelling mystery, entertaining comedy, and thought-provoking philosophy all in a one-person play. Impressive. Lovely.
Underneath the Lintel plays Wednesday, April 2, and concludes its run on Thursday, April 3, at Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro. Tickets, from $20. Call (310) 512-6030 or go to littlefishtheatre.org.