Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage, Washington DC-AlexandriaUnderneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage, Washington DC-Alexandria
by Glen Berger
starring Paul Morella

Directed by John Vreeke
Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage, Washington DC-Alexandria
A Dutch Librarian, a returned library book that is 113 years overdue, and the obsession to find its owner. A clue scribbled in the margin, an unclaimed dry-cleaning ticket, tickets to the Peking Opera, a love letter written in Yiddish, and why does that french opera, Les Miserables, keep appearing? Multiple clues and a world-wide search that ultimately decode the meaning of life. And a plant, the Zebrina Pendula, that may hold the ultimate clue. A metaphysical detective story that is funny and fierce, quirky and smart.

*****  REVIEWS and PHOTOS  *****

The Washington Post review of Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke at MetroStage

‘Underneath the Lintel’ goes on historical goose chase with mythical connections

Review by Nelson Pressley
The Washington Post

“Underneath the Lintel” is an agreeable goose chase about a librarian perplexed by a returned item that was 113 years overdue. Who had it all that time? What can such century-hopping mean?

This bookish 85-minute monologue by Glen Berger has been produced widely since its debut in 2001; the Round House Theatre did it here in 2003. A smart new staging (with Paul Morella as the anxious librarian) is alternating in repertory at Alexandria’s MetroStage with another one-man show, “The Thousandth Night,” about a 1943 French actor subtly telling protest tales against the rising Nazi tide.

Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage, Washington DC-Alexandria“Underneath the Lintel” is the more cosmic piece, but the plays have two things in common. Both are quests for purpose, and both are yarn-spinners peppered with anecdotes and compact adventures.

In “The Thousandth Night,” the actor feverishly tells stories to keep from being sent to a concentration camp; it’s life or death. In “Lintel,” the librarian hardly knows what he’s chasing. The returned book, an old Baedeker’s travel guide, contains a 1913 laundry ticket from London. Once our Dutch librarian treks to England and fetches the garment, one artifact leads to another, all over the globe.

As the brown-suited librarian, Morella is an excellent guide — addled and intrigued and with a wide capacity for wonder. This character wants explanations; the play is his lecture, as he’s rented out the hall for a one-night only attempt to share what he’s found on this existential scavenger hunt.

He’s not neat about it: The stage is littered with suitcases, books and papers. The set, an adaptation of James Kronzer’s rail-station design for “Thousandth Night,” includes a slide projector and chalkboards, visual aids so the librarian can illustrate on the fly. Like a monomaniacal yet colorful professor, Morella paces through the debris and teases out wispy connections. The hints lead toward the mythical wandering Jew, who once stood safely in his own doorway (underneath the lintel) and, in self-protection, turned away Jesus.

Berger’s wandering, prayerful play is not grippingly flashy or notably wise, but it finally snaps together through its earnest intentions — and because Morella and director John Vreeke play a clean theatrical game. As he does in “The Thousandth Night,” Vreeke — apparently allergic to any shred of synthetic warmth or dread — banishes treacle from the menu. The capable design of a cluttered set and low lights creates a thoughtful mood while avoiding big emotional cues. You either find the librarian’s question about existence dramatic, or you don’t. That’s faith.

Review by Nelson Pressley
The Washington Post

DC Theatre Scene - Review of Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage

The engaging script by Glen Berger and whimsical direction by John Vreeke
move us along bit by bit until we are also
intrigued by the journey of this obsessesing librarian.

Review by Debbie Jackson

DC Theatre Scene

Underneath the Lintel is a deceivingly simple story of a librarian tracking down the patron who borrowed and returned a long overdue book which transitions into an unanticipated life journey. Paul Morella, date stamp hanging around his neck like a trophy or cherished medal of honor, is an absolute marvel as the lowly clerk.  

Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage - Washington DC-AlexandriaWhen we meet him, the librarian is attacking his work like a zealot with no more important purpose in life than checking the books’ inner pocket cards (remember those?) for the due dates and scowling at tardy ones that might be several days or (gasp) a week overdue.  Once he demonstrates his savant ability to recall obscure events that occurred on specific dates, we can understand his growing fascination with patron “A” who returned a book 113 years after it was due.
Busily attending to his paperwork even while the audience enters the theater, Morella, as the meticulous, unnamed Dutch librarian, relays the message of a stalled life just waiting to happen.  He who has never traveled outside of his city, becomes so intrigued by the unfolding circumstances and historical events marking the mysterious patron’s life that he starts off on a journey to track him down.
This simple librarian, who was once comfortably ensconced in his own nondescript daily routines and rhythms of life, finds himself visiting places he had only read about in books. Almost before he knows it, he’s traveling to Bonn, Germany, offering tidbits about the demolishing and rebuilding of the city over various wars.  As each new clue unfolds, the librarian demonstrates the steady tenacity of someone on a life mission to find the answers and uncover the truth. Each potential “what if”, becoming more bizarre with every disclosure, brings him closer to the patron’s possible identity.

Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage - Washington DC-AlexandriaIt was actually quite refreshing to watch the character pose a question about something, then fling himself into real books or an atlas rather than flip a switch or pound a keyboard to summon the all powerful Google.  What a reminder that people conducted research via paper products before ubiquitous knowledge was trapped in the clouds. And through it all, you could feel the librarian’s excitement while unraveling the mysteries and his nearly sensuous fixation on catalogs, reference books, and … drum roll … the now nearly defunct Dewey Decimal System.
It’s such a pleasure watching one of the metro area’s finest actors tackle material that fits him like a glove.  Morella’s physical manifestations change as he portrays the librarian’s journeys across the world on his quest for answers.  Hunched over his papers in the beginning, stuck in the rut of a quiet self-imposed recluse, the librarian becomes more animated and expressive with each new clue.  He eventually even grapples with the implications about the tale of the shoemaker at the time of Jesus, who, standing underneath the lintel of his establishment, turned a condemned man away, and was condemned to life-times of restlessness, ever referred to as the nomadic “Wandering Jew.”
The multipurpose scenic design by James Kronzer (the set is shared with MetroStage’s Thousandth Night) consists of a jumble of artifacts from travels and research — old suitcases strewn about, stacks of books, a string of clipped papers and notes encased in plastic sheets hung on a clothesline for easy access.

The librarian is the ultimate researcher and, like a pitbull, doesn’t let up.  When his clues go nowhere, he explains the positive side of a “red herring.” It may not move you forward or closer to the answer, but at least it’s moving you along, sideways even backwards, a step or two is better than staying stuck.
The engaging script by Glen Berger and whimsical direction by John Vreeke move us along bit by bit until we are also intrigued by the journey of this obsessesing librarian.  If we could just kick up our heels at the end with sheer exuberance, as does the librarian, that would be victorious — the production nudges that anything is possible, if we would just make the choice.
That’s the essence of this simple tale of a man’s journey to find a mysterious stranger— the importance of being here, present, and aware that life cloaks tiny miracles in ordinary moments.  Watch this show and see for yourself how the messages sneak up on you, and seep into your being.
Shown in repertory with another master storyteller, Marcus Kyd in Carol Wolf’s The Thousandth Night, both plays offer mid-week talk-backs to help explore the moments, offering opportunities to explore the possibilities. Who knows, the insights could be as unexpectedly life changing as an overdue book dumped in the library bin.

Review by Debbie Jackson
DC Theatre Scene

DC Metro Theatre Arts - Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage, Washington DC-Alexandria
In the hands of MetroStage, John Vreeke, and Paul Morella, Underneath the Lintel is indescribable.

Review by Yvonne French
DC Metro Theatre Arts

Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - Five Star Review

I know a lot of librarians who would love Underneath the Lintel (and non-librarians too like those in the audience last night who were having a great time). First, it includes variety of media: books, ledgers, atlases, LPs, cassettes, wax cylinders, photographs, photostats, slides, prints, and the all-important marginalia: notes someone made in the margin of a book.
A book is 113 years overdue, and card in the pocket is checked out to someone named only “A.” In the book there is a laundry ticket from London, and in the pants there is a train ticket from Germany and it is here that story and the storyteller—played with great warmth  and humor by actor Paul Morella—really take off. It’s a tour de force performance and should not be missed.

Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage, Washington DC-AlexandriaIf you liked the 2004 book The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, you will especially love this play. Underneath the Lintel debuted in 2001, won an Ovation Award (L.A.’s equivalent of the Tony Award), and had more than 450 performances Off-Broadway. The playwright, Glen Berger, also wrote several Arthur episodes and co-wrote the book Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History.
Another reason librarians would love this show is because Director John Vreeke, who was an associate producer and casting associate for Northern Exposure, got the Dutch librarian’s look and attitude just right (I just found out that the director is Dutch!) Morella’s look is tweedy with natural fibers, all-leather shoes, and eyeglasses as an afterthought. The attitude is smart but resigned; the method is that of a dogged researcher open to the whims of serendipity.
As The Librarian, Paul Morella possesses ‘glamour’ in the original Scots meaning of the word: enchantment or magic. He’s alone onstage for the entire one-man show, which he conducts as if he is a professor, even giving it the title of An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences. He slowly reveals different physical aspects of himself so that even though he starts out full of vitality, by the end he’s visibly harrowed – maybe shape-shifting would be a more accurate word. It’s a wonder to behold.
Using a whirring slide projector and exhibits in glassine envelopes with hand-lettered tags, the Librarian reveals the provenance of every piece of ephemera he has chased down since the book was dropped anonymously into the return slot in 1986.
“It became a world tour for me to track down that rapscallion with Baedeker’s as a guide,” he says. And it will become 90 minutes of pure pleasure for anyone who sees this delightful play, because it turns out that A. is an intriguing mythical character.
Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage - Washington DC-Alexandria
James Kronzer’s Scenic Design features a bank of glass doors topped by open transom windows. Morella uses it to good effect to describe a lintel, or the top of the doorway that first sets the mythical character on his ageless journey. The set is actually for The Thousandth Night, which takes place in a train station in the 1940s, and is being performed in repertory with Underneath The Lintel. Kudos to the subtle lighting fluctuations by Alexander Keen.
Said Producing Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin, “I decided that for the first time ever we would produce two plays in rep on the same stage and hope that our patrons would agree that there is an interesting, intriguing compatibility and connection between them. [They share] storytelling at its best with underlying themes of the power of the individual against all odds and the universal search for the meaning of life.”
Individual power against all odds and the meaning of life- those are the third and fourth reasons why librarians would love this show, and they are the most important of all. Oh, and the Klezmer music. One can’t forget the Klezmer music (or the large number of sound clips perfectly interspersed by Robert Garner), because that’s what inspired Berger in the first place. Berger has written that all of his plays are inspired by music. “Underneath the Lintel was inspired by Klezmer/Yiddish music from the 1920s. The ‘jaunty melancholy,’ the ‘dancing-despite-it-all’ quality it contained, the defiance—even a certain ‘finding-joy-despite-all-the-evidence-to-the-contrary’ quality in the music—compelled me to try to express it as a play.”
In the hands of MetroStage, John Vreeke, and Paul Morella, Underneath the Lintel is indescribable.

Review by Yvonne French
DC Metro Theatre Arts

Broadway World DC - Underneath The Lintel Review - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage

MetroStage's UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL Is Brilliant, Forces the Audience to Think

Review by Audrey Liebross
Broadway World DC

UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL is masterfully acted by Paul Morella, who even manages an identifiable Dutch accent. The play itself is extraordinary, and requires a great deal of mental effort on the part of the audience to follow the goings-on. MetroStage describes the show as a "metaphysical detective story that is funny and fierce, quirky and smart" in which "[m]ultiple clues and a world-wide search ... ultimately decode the meaning of life." Maybe ... and maybe not, depending on the perspective of the audience member - particularly the individual's religious and spiritual views.

Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage - Washington DC-AlexandriaMerriam Webster's on-line dictionary describes a "lintel," pronounced much like "lentil," as "a piece of wood or stone that lies across the top of a door or window and holds the weight of the structure above it." www.Merriam-Webster.com . Knowing that the sole character in the play attempts to solve a historical mystery, I assumed that the a key clue would turn up "underneath the lintel," hence the title. Not at all. The play eventually defines the term and elucidates the meaning of the title, but, by then, the story has taken a sharp turn away from what at first seems to be an ordinary mystery: Why has someone returned a travel guide to a Dutch library 113 years after the due date, and why has that someone slipped it into the overnight slot reserved for on-time returns?

The production is brilliant in every way, from the performance of Paul Morella, who plays the librarian - actually a former librarian - to the deliberate disorganization of the set, strewn with old-fashioned suitcases from which the librarian can undoubtedly instantaneously extract exactly the document he is seeking. Mr. Morella, who is known to DC area audiences for, among other projects, his solo version of "A Christmas Carol," and his motion picture and television appearances, perfectly portrays the nebbishy librarian with so little intellectual curiosity about everything but history that he has never "wasted" his vacation by leaving Holland. At first, his big excitement in life comes from arguing with a rival who wants the promotion that the unnamed protagonist is seeking and with defending the amount of room his lunch takes up in the employee refrigerator - until someone has the temerity to deposit a century overdue library book in the overnight slot. Even then, at first, the librarian's reaction is to locate the descendants of the borrower to levy the large fine that has accrued in 113 years. Mr. Morella manages to make us care about this unnamed, damaged man, even as the librarian violates social mores by talking about bodily functions, albeit in scientific terms, and makes clear his utter incompetence in surviving in the world.

Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage - Washington DC-Alexandria
At the beginning, I assumed that the librarian suffered from Asperger's, or a similar syndrome - he could recall an event from almost any day in history, but he was unfamiliar with LES MISERABLES (both the musical, and apparently, the Victor Hugo novel, which is almost shocking for a librarian). Later, I wondered if his problem was obsessive-compulsive disorder. Still later, I wondered whether he had had a problem at all, and was instead responding to other-worldly messages. By the end of the play, I concluded that the librarian did probably suffer from some form of disability, but I could not figure out whether it was at the beginning or the end, or both.

UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL has its comic moments, most of them dark, but it is no comedy;  I certainly would not recommend it for those seeking a pleasant piece of fluff. An audience member is likely to leave puzzling over every piece of evidence that the librarian presents, trying to determine whether it adds up to something important or to a coincidence manufactured by a disordered mind that sees web-like connections in the disparate, unrelated pieces of detritus generated during ordinary lives. The play reminds me of studying Talmud, where opposing viewpoints are preserved for the ages, because all are worth considering and all lead down new paths. There are no definitive answers in Talmud - only more questions. This play is like that - the more one peels away the layers of the onion, the more come to the surface.
MetroStage, in Alexandria, Virginia, is currently presenting two one-actor plays in repertory, both directed by John Vreeke: Glen Berger's UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL and Carol Wolf's THE THOUSANDTH NIGHT. Carolyn Griffin, MetroStage's producing artistic director, emphasizes what she calls the "intriguing compatibility and connection between them."

Review by Audrey Liebross
Broadway World DC

Maryland Theatre Guide - Review - Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke at MetroStage

Director John Vreeke lets Morella do his job while balancing
the comedic and dramatic moments of the story perfectly.

Review by Elliot Lanes
Maryland Theatre Guide

Glen Berger’s play, Underneath the Lintel, shows us the effects of taking your job way too seriously. The solo piece, now playing at Metro Stage, features veteran actor Paul Morella as a Dutch librarian known to us simply as The Librarian in an “Impressive Presentation of Worldwide Instances.”

Underneath The Lintel - Directed by John Vreeke - MetroStage, Washington DC-AlexandriaHere is a man whose job it is to take the books from the overnight slot and check them back in to the library. As it is explained to us, people think sometimes they can drop an overdue book into the slot and get away with not paying late fees. One day a book comes back that is 124 years past due. Can you imagine the fine? Most people would let this go but our librarian is determined to find the owner. This takes him on a worldwide journey and while looking for the borrower develops a liking for the musical Les Misérables. As you might imagine all this gallivanting around the world does not go over well with The Librarian’s employer and I think you know what happens next.

Paul Morella brings many levels to the seriously obsessed librarian. His performance ranges from funny to downright intense. His rant towards the end of the play shows us that when you let your job encompass your life, it will not end well.

Director John Vreeke lets Morella do his job while balancing the comedic and dramatic moments of the story perfectly. This is the second time I have seen this play performed. The first time was at last year’s Capital Fringe. After seeing this current version, I realize the show has many more layers to it and should not be played as all comedy. Morella and Vreeke do an excellent job in not giving us a one-note production.

The cluttered set by James Kronzer adds to the manic nature of The Librarian and includes a slide projector (remember those?) and a clothes line for all the pieces of evidence he collects throughout his travels.

All in all, Underneath the Lintel teaches us two things. First is when your job starts to make you truly obsessive, you might want to think about getting another gig somewhere. The second and more important is when Paul Morella is onstage in this show, it’s a solo turn of the highest caliber and definitely one that needs to be seen. Make a day of it at Metro Stage and catch this play along with The Thousandth Night starring Marcus Kyd. There is enough time in between for a nice meal and you get to see some great solo work in the process.

Review by Elliot Lanes
Maryland Theatre Guide


Underneath the Lintel...
is remarkable in its many moods

Review by Susan Berlin
Talkin' Broadway

Actor Paul Morella has done one-person plays before (as Clarence Darrow and a solo version of A Christmas Carol), but his current performance in Underneath the Lintel at MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia, is remarkable in its many moods, its thoughtfulness, and the way he uses variations of both physical posture and vocal timbre to tell a unique story.

In Glen Berger's play, Morella is a Dutch librarian faced with a mystery that has taken him around the world. As he displays and explains what he calls "lovely evidences" to an audience in a rented hall, he brings the audience inside his quest.

The librarian's story begins one morning when he finds a book 113 years overdue in the overnight book return bin. What could this mean, he wonders. Determined to track down the person who borrowed the book, he soon finds other clues—a receipt for an unclaimed piece of laundry, a tram ticket—that take him from London to New York, from Germany to Australia. Soon he's considering the immensity of the universe and the human need for meaning, as well as legends about people blessed (or cursed) with eternal life.

Director John Vreeke modulates Morella's performance as the librarian's discoveries begin striking close to home. What is free will? How is it possible for a person's life and experiences to disappear from memory? How can disenfranchised people find ways to persevere—or even thrive? And what can one seemingly insignificant person do to affect the people around him or her?

MetroStage is presenting Underneath the Lintel in rep with The Thousandth Night, which features Marcus Kyd as an actor giving the performance of his life. The librarian, with his disheveled hair and stodgy glasses, seems far different from a professional performer, but both of their stories touch on injustice and the need to stand up for oneself and others. (Without saying too much, both plays also invoke the Holocaust.)

Review by Susan Berlin
Talkin' Broadway