Spotlight: Underneath the Lintel


Searching for possible characters to carry a one-act, one-man show, you may not put a Dutch librarian at the top of the list. Yet playwright Glen Berger has assigned himself this unlikely task. We first meet his date-stamp-wielding book pusher (John Shuman) as he takes the stage, in suit and tie, and announces that he has rented the hall in order to tell his weird story to the world. It all begins in 1986, when someone anonymously returns a travel book that had been checked out in 1873 (yes, the overdue fine is knee-trembling). Shuman, tremulous behind glasses and speaking in a high voice, proceeds to produce a series of numbered exhibits from his pocket and suitcase: a laundry ticket from 1913, a pair of ragged pants, an old tram pass from Germany. Using a slide show, he describes the trail of the mysterious library patron. Soon the narrative drifts to that of the mythic Wandering Jew, storied to have denied Jesus assistance before his crucifixion, leading to an eternal life of restless roaming. Shuman is an able and captivating storyteller, with a dry comic touch. This gift tends to compensate for the mounting ridiculousness of Berger's script. Eventually our librarian travels the planet in search of his quarry, though along the way the web of his connections begins to fray. At this point we drift into existential territory: Left to ponder our ephemeral footprint on this Earth, we're supposed to rail against it with a heartfelt "I was here." None of this really amounts to much, but Shuman keeps selling it with mounting emotion, including scandalized wonder at the prospect that he might have proved the existence of God. While the play never brushes against the heights to which it aspires, it is an entertaining hour-plus diversion. As with an odd library book that didn't quite hit the spot, one may feel a bit baffled but never cheated.