Patrick O'Brien in Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger.
Patrick O'Brien in Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger.

Goethe Institut – Main Stage

Remaining Performances:

Thursday, July 25, 5:15 p.m.
Friday, July 26, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 8 p.m.
Sunday, July 28, 3 p.m.

They say: Best Solo Show: Minnesota and London (Ontario) Fringes. Starring film and TV veteran Pat O’Brien. A librarian finds a book 123 years overdue and embarks on a quest to apprehend the borrower. “Five out of five Stars!” —-London Free Press

Alexis’ Take: I really can’t say much about playwright Glen Berger‘s Underneath the Lintel. Not because the 2001 work isn’t a lovely—-even astounding—-little piece. With an equally matched actor at its helm in Pat O’Brien (who exudes a kind of Jack Lemmon energy), this is by far the best thing I’ve seen at Fringe this year.

No. I just can’t say too much, because I don’t want to rob you of the experience. Seeing the quiet, unostentatious way that the narrative comes together is its own reward. But because this is a review, here’s this much: O’Brien plays a fastidious, quirky librarian who works in a small town in Holland, and he’s on a quest to find the person responsible for returning a book that had been overdue for longer than a century.

The way he meanders from one random topic to the next as he speaks—-like how he ventured to Gouda once to see the cheese, but that day the factories were closed—-is so natural, it makes you wonder at times if maybe this is actually acting, or if maybe there is no script. At one point, he requests better lighting from the booth; he yells at the audience, “Stay with me!”; he struggles to get his slides/music presentation to function properly. But give it some time, and you will begin making connections as this path unfurls.

Even with a bare-bones stage, few effects, and minimal blocking, there’s action aplenty. As recounted by this luminous actor, the journey is transcendent and touching and fantastical, in the way that the myths and fairytales he catalogues into the library system are. The librarian winds up traveling all over Europe (randomly, to retrieve a pair of pants from a dry cleaner in London, for instance), then all the way to the United States and China and Australia.

There are lots of funny stories and jokes along the way. One at Les Misérables‘ expense. Then while describing the town of Bonne in Germany, a remark about how amazing it is that after each war the place has been reconstructed: “I knocked over a tray of marzipan. It was rebuilt!”

Tucked away in this “box of junk,” he says, pulling up objects he’s collected, which he calls “evidence to prove one life and justify another,” are some profound questions. How, in the face of history’s numerous horrors, can we still find pleasure in simple things, like free concerts in the park? What happens if we only realize what we regret the most after it’s too late to fix it? What is the point of the individual when natural disasters can claim 3 million lives in an instant? “Three million and one,” he corrects. “But what’s the difference? Well, except to the one.”

Lintel first premiered at the Soho Playhouse on Sept. 19, 2001 (which must have been difficult and surreal). It has since been produced in numerous cities seems and almost unanimously met with praise. And it’s easy to see why. If only Fringe were longer, I’d go back a few more times. But I’d rather you claim my seat.

See it if: You’re overdue for a damn great play.

Skip it if: You can’t sit still for more than five minutes.