It’s difficult to describe Underneath the Lintel: The Mystery of the Abandoned Trousers, the current production at North Carolina Stage Company. And not just because a representative from the theater cautioned me not to give away the mystery. Now, I like a good thriller as much as the next person, and even though I occasionally read ahead in a novel to find out how it ends, I would never spoil the surprise. However, in the case of Lintel I’m not sure that I could even if I wanted to. See, I’m not all together certain of what happens.
This is not to say that the play isn’t excellent — it is. And actor Terry Weber (who stars as the soul character) is riveting almost from the moment he takes the stage. A solo performance is hard to do, and Weber manages to make 90 minutes pass in record time. The premise of the play is catchy, too: A tightly wound Dutch librarian finds a book in the return slot that is 134 years overdue. When he decides to locate the borrower — more likely the borrower’s descendants — a mystery begins to unfold.
Just who the phantom borrower turns out to be, I can’t reveal. And, in fact, neither does the play. The thing about Lintel is that its creator, Glen Berger, is skilled at asking questions and maddeningly adept at answering them with yet more questions. The end result? For the audience, a spell-binding hour and half, some interesting insights into biblical scripture, human nature, the passage of time, and the oft-grafittied declaration, “I was here.” But don’t go to this show expecting a tidy conclusion. That’s not happening.
Worth noting is the collection of vintage suitcases and yellowed papers making up the set. There’s also the spot-on usage of a slide projector, and some fun pokes at the Broadway show Les Misérables. Weber, in all the trappings of a stuffy librarian, manages to evoke a mood of timelessness while leading the audience on a whirlwind journey across centuries. Ticket stubs, cards from library catalogues and an antiquated date stamp are objects fondly rescued from another time to further the story. Even Weber’s initially questionable Dutch accent quickly proves to be the perfect choice. He’s able to pronounce words just so for maximum comedic affect.
Similarly, the actor employs physical humor, frustrated shouts and the presentation of all matter of ephemera at just the right moments. Timing is everything, and Lintel is in perfect rhythm.
As for the fuzzy ending — really, that’s for the audience to decide. Who borrowed the book? Is there really a mystery man leaving clues? And what about the plays high-strung narrator? What is his role, when all is said and done? Go see it for yourself and then let me know what, for you, is the bottom line.
Underneath the Lintel runs through Sunday, April 20, at N.C. Stage. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range $15-$25 by date, with dinner-and-a-show on Thursday, April 10, for $100 per person. Info: 350-9090.
— Alli Marshall, A&E reporter