2016 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Underneath the Lintel’

Pat O’Brien’s solo performance in Underneath the Lintel has been captivating US and Canadian Fringe audiences for eight years now, and it’s not hard to see why.

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Seeing O’Brien—a longtime star of movies and television—up close and in the flesh is a mind-boggling experience. It’s a virtuoso performance, breathtaking in its depth and speed.

Yet the premise is as fusty as the character O’Brien plays.  Imagine an actor known for his roles in TV sitcoms–Monk and Saved By the Bell are just two of them—playing a prissy librarian who loves collecting fines on overdue books.

Of course, when our Librarian discovers a book that’s 123 years overdue—a pocket-size Baedecker with lots of scribbles in the margins and a ticket for unclaimed laundry tucked inside—he is off and running, visions of hefty fines lighting up his face.

One thing leads to another.  In the pocket of the unclaimed trousers in London he finds a tram ticket from Bonn. Ultimately that inspires a journey that crisscrosses the globe and travels through time to the origin of the ‘Wandering Jew.’

The latter just happens to be standing in a doorway—underneath the ‘lintel,’ which is the bar on top of the door—of a shoemaker in Jerusalem in the early years of the first millenium.

How O’Brien carries this off—running madly around the set, holding up bits of evidence and slides and offering us a picture postcard travelogue of the world—is little short of miraculous.

This is wizardry incarnate, a dazzling prance through time and space and even immortality.

Which is as it should be, since Glen Berger, the playwright who wrote this in 1999—12 years before unveiling the Broadway hit, Spiderman-Turn Off the Dark —has also written an “afterword” (thoughtfully distributed by O’Brien after the show) to explain that the play sets out to convey three facts.  These are (1) that the universe is immense, (2) that history is vast and (3) that we are all going to die sooner or later.

He also tells us that the inspiration for the play came from hearing a  tape of Dave Tarras playing Klezmer music in the 1920s.

All of which may sound quite a bit odd, but—in O’Brien’s manic performance—it’s side-splittingly funny.  (Or sublime, which—as Berger explains—is a word that actually means ‘under the lintel.’)

Although this year is only his second at the Capital Fringe, O’Brien promises to be a frequent visitor in future. But don’t wait. If there are any tickets left for Underneath the Lintel, you’d better grab them immediately, since they won’t last.

Running Time: 65 minutes, with no intermission.


Underneath the Lintel plays through July 24, 2016 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library – Central Library – 901 G Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Capital Fringe Page.    



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