At one point during Underneath the Lintel, the Librarian refers to one of the clues he has discovered as “not riveting, but interesting”. This pretty much summed up my experience with the show, currently playing as part of the Chutzpah! Festival through March 20th.
The Librarian (Christian Murray) arrives to tell us of his quest to determine the origins of a 113 year overdue library book. As he recounts his journey, which ultimately takes him around the world, he gradually introduces a number of artifacts from his suitcase. As each artifact is revealed, whether an old train ticket or some writing on an ancient ledger, he uses them to help achieve his stated goals “to prove a life and to justify another”.
Murray’s portrayal of the Librarian builds quite nicely through the show. He is at times fastidious in a librarian sort-of-way and at others completely consumed with his almost manic obsession; in one of the best scenes of the night, as that obsession builds in his story, Murray begins writing with chalk on various parts of the set with such an intensity and fervor we are totally drawn into that obsession.
Much like the character he sets out “to prove”, Murray rarely stops moving and takes full advantage of the small set by Stephen Osler. I must admit at times I did wonder if stumbles with the text were deliberate or not, but the very fact I noticed meant I was less than fully engaged for the relatively short 80 minutes.
In the end, whether we believe the Librarian has actually achieved his goal to “prove a life” is immaterial, as with most things of a spiritual nature, a leap of faith is necessary. But more importantly, as the Librarian realizes for himself, a leap of faith is an equally necessary part of any quest to justify one’s own existence.
While it is perhaps not my job to decide whether one’s quest for justification is any better or worse than another, for me at least, that is what separated Underneath the Lintel from being riveting to simply interesting.
But indeed, in this instance at least, interesting was enough.
Underneath the Lintel
Norman Rothstein Theatre
14 – 20 March 2010
The return of an overdue library book – 113 years late – piques the nascent detective skills of an uptight Dutch librarian who embarks on a quixotic, globe trotting pursuit of the anonymous borrower and returner. Part of the 2010 Chutzpah! Festival. Tickets are $16 – $24 available online or by calling 604.257.5145.