Arye Gross stars in Underneath the Lintel: An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences, directed by Steven Robman, at the Geffen Playhouse.
Arye Gross stars in Underneath the Lintel: An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences, directed by Steven Robman, at the Geffen Playhouse.
(© Chris Whitaker)

The biggest mystery of Underneath the Lintel is how the unspectacular quest for the late fees of a 113-year-old past due library book could make for such a riveting evening. Playwright Glen Berger turns this minuscule task into a reflection of the human experience and the desperation to find meaning in an unfulfilled life. This solo show is enhanced by actor Arye Gross's hilarious and poignant portrayal of a Dutch librarian adrift in his waning years.

A meticulous librarian discovers a way-overdue book in the drop box and obsesses about the borrower. At first, he seems desperate to regain the late fees generated from holding the book for 113 years. Eventually, the search becomes a Herculean pursuit to learn who took the book out in the late 1800s and if the same now very old person returned it over a century later. This journey takes the timid, reclusive librarian across the world, where he experiences life and its joys for the first time. Every depot brings another clue to the wayward borrower's identity and each venture brings the librarian closer to enlightenment.

Berger's script is structured like a murder mystery, where every clue is important to the overall story. Because the librarian is treating this task as a headline case, it also reveals his desperation to do more in his life than stamp overdue books. Anyone who has ever had the feeling of being stuck at some point in their life will identify with the librarian and recognize his need to grab at the one thing that may allow him to pull himself out of his lifelong rut.

Solo shows require a quality actor who can draw the audience into the drama. While the Librarian was not written specifically for Gross, it turns out to fit him like a glove. He is entrancing to watch as he runs about the stage like a nymph while also adroitly handling a Dutch accent. His particular turns of phrase only add to the script's humor.

Director Steven Robman allows his star to run wild on the stage and throughout the audience, excitedly inviting all of us to ponder the mysteries he encounters. The set by Se Hyun Oh turns the theater into a dilapidated auditorium. Leah Piehl's costume of a poorly fitted suit perfectly illustrates the character's current economic status and his state of emotional upheaval. Rich Gilles's props masterfully capture the books, train tickets, coins, and library forms of other eras.

An insightful and hilarious play, Underneath the Lintel offers an inspiring vision of a person who discovers it's not too late to truly live life. Just the simple act of turning a page could very well lead to a whole new chapter.