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Underneath The Lintel

Published 17 April 2008

From White House Director of Communications to Dutch librarian: Richard Schiff made the shift in the West End last night as he opened in Glen Berger's one-man play Underneath The Lintel at the Duchess. The former star of The West Wing left behind the trappings of Washington and donned drab clothes, chained spectacles and a Dutch accent to portray a small man on a big mission to find out the truth about a myth, and himself. Caroline Bishop was in the audience…

As a small-town librarian, a pedant, and a stickler for details, Schiff's character – who remains nameless – has spent his days checking in books returned in the overnight slot of his library. He loves nothing more than meticulously date-stamping books with his beloved stamper, while dishing out fines is his pleasure in life.

At the beginning of this one-act monologue, the librarian is full of enthusiasm to tell the audience about the quest he has been on in the last few months, a quest that lost him his job, opened his eyes and gave his life a purpose that he hitherto did not have.

It all started when someone had the cheek to return a book long-overdue into the librarian's overnight slot. A Baedeker travel guide 113 years overdue in fact. Intrigued by the book, and indignant that the person didn't have the bottle to return it in person and face the fine, the librarian starts to track them down.

It is a quest full of small details, which suits the librarian to a tee, and one by one he presents the 'evidences' – of course all carefully labelled – to the audience. The clues lead him around the world on a purposeful goosechase and gradually the librarian becomes convinced he is dealing with a myth that might actually be true.

While he becomes obsessed by the story he is following, the audience witnesses the gradual awakening of this man who has so far led a sheltered, sad life. As he travels, discovers culture and rebels from his job he is unwittingly embracing a new lease of life. Sadly, it also makes him reflect on his old life and regret the opportunities that he let go. The librarian has released himself from the drudgery of his former life, but now his eyes are open to the forks in the road that could have improved it had he taken the right paths. Was it better to live in ignorance?

Schiff gives a funny and touching performance in this spiritual tale that has something of a moral: pay attention to the small things you do, or don't do, because they could change your life.

CB

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