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REVIEW: Underneath the Lintel at Main Stage West - by Harry Duke

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REVIEW: Underneath the Lintel
at Main Stage West, Sebastopol 
- by Harry Duke

“I was here.”  - three simple words that sum up the desire of every human being to leave an imprint, however small, on this world.  That yearning, that justification of a life, is at the center of Main Stage West’s current production of Glenn Berger’s “Underneath the Lintel”, running now through March 30th.

John Shillington in Underneath the Lintel at Main Stage WestA Dutch librarian (John Shillington), whose sole task is to check in the books that are returned in the night drop, discovers a unique item among one evening’s returns – a tattered and worn copy of a Traveler’s Guide that is 113 years overdue. After following policy and sending out the appropriate notice of fine (to the last registered borrower whose address is a PO Box in China) the librarian’s curiosity gets the better of him as he begins his own investigation into the circumstances surrounding the book’s return.  

This investigation soon turns into an obsession,  but one man’s obsession may be another man’s purpose for being, as the librarian who never ventured far from his home in Hoofddorp, Netherlands soon finds himself globetrotting and experiencing life as he never had before.  His journey finds him wandering from Europe to Asia to North America to Australia and back, with each stop adding one more piece to the intriguing puzzle of who the borrower may have been.  He has his theory, and he has rented the theatre to present his evidence to support it. In the course of the evening, he will do his best to prove the existence of one myth, and unknowingly prove the validity of another.

Director John Craven, who as an actor just met the challenge of several lengthy conspiracy-based monologues in Main Stage West’s production of “Yankee Tavern”, ups the ante for Mr. Shillington by presenting him with the challenge of a 90 minute monologue.  Mr. Shillington is up to the challenge, though he was aided by an intermission at the 45 minute mark that is not usually taken in this production.

While that intermission is somewhat jarring to the flow of the show, allowances should be made for it, particularly since Mr. Shillington seemed to be significantly under the weather at Saturday evening’s performance.  This might also explain several moments in the show where he seemed to lose his train of thought or was having difficulty with his lines, but in the best tradition of the old theatre mantra that “the show must go on”, he soldiered on.  His librarian captivated the audience with his conviction, humor, naivety, passion, regret and, above all, his energy - damned impressive if you’re not physically operating at 100%.

Another challenge presented to Mr. Shillington was to maintain a Dutch accent for 90 minutes.  Much like his character, his accent wanders a bit as well, but the strength of his storytelling skills more than compensates for the occasional dialect inconsistency.

The story that the Librarian tells, and the myth that he wishes to prove should be left to the audience to discover on their own.  The myth that he unknowingly validates is one that the he mentions himself, the myth that “life has any meaning or significance.”  He has found something to give his life meaning and significance, a reason to step out from under the safety of a lintel and experience life for himself. In his search for a way to stamp “I was here” on the world for all to see, he begins to live a life that may very well end with those three words uttered not as a defiant cry for eternal recognition, but as a quiet declaration of self-worth.

With “Underneath the Lintel”, Main Stage West adds another successful production to its season of thought-provoking plays matched with compelling performances and sharp direction.  Step out from underneath your own lintels (look it up) and check it out.

Underneath the Lintel

Thu/Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 5pm through March 30th
Thursdays are “Pay What You Will” nights

Main Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472

(707) 823-0177

www.mainstagewest.com

Photos by E. Craven

Harry Duke Live Theater Reviews