Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Case Study No. 0238: The Librarian (Underneath the Lintel)

David Silberman
Theater critic Marcus Crowder talks with actor David Silberman about his one-man show "Underneath the Lintel" by Glen Berger. Video by Andy Alfarto / Sacramento Bee

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[scene opens with David Silberman (as the Librarian) alone on stage speaking directly to the audience]
LIBRARIAN: I am ... a librarian. From Hoofddorp, that's Holland. Or rather, I was, before I was fired. Or rather, I retired. Against my will. Without my pension. Or rather, that's no concern of yours. Or rather, it will be, but not yet. My special duty for more than many years being to check in the books that came in overnight through the overnight slot.
[cut to another shot of Silberman]
LIBRARIAN: In the back of every book, you see, there's a little envelope, and in this little envelope, there's a little card, and on that little card ... the little date the book is due.
[cut to another shot of Silberman, as he holds up a book stamp that's attached to a string around his neck]
LIBRARIAN: This is my stamper. Oh yes, I wasn't letting them keep this! It's lovely ... It contains every date there ever was. You don't believe me?
[he closes his eyes, randomly turns the stamper dials, then reads off the date]
LIBRARIAN: "August 27, 1883" ... There, that's the date Mount Perboewaten explodees in Krakatoa, thirty-six thousand people perish under the ash. It's all in here! All the trials and joys of history.
[he closes his eyes and turns the dials to another date]
LIBRARIAN: "January 25, 1971" ... Oh, January 25, 1971!
[cut to Marcus Crowder speaking directly to the camera]
MARCUS CROWDER: Hello, I'm Marcus Crowder, theater critic at the Sacramento Bee. I'm here at the B Street Theater talking with David Silberman about his new one-man show, "Underneath the Lintel."
[cut to Marcus interviewing David]
MARCUS CROWDER: What is the interesting part for you about doing a one-person show?
DAVID SILBERMAN: [laughs] There's nobody to play with! Well see now, the answer's different now then it would've been before I started working on it. Before I started working on it, I had all these wonderful feelings of "Oh, what a tremendous opportunity!"
[cut to various shots of Silberman performing on stage]
DAVID SILBERMAN: [from off camera] And it still is, it's still great, but boy! I'll tell you what, this is hard. We were talking earlier, I've been doing professional theater for about thirty five, thirty six years. And this is the first time I've ever done anything like this, done a one-man show.
[cut back to Silberman being interviewed]
DAVID SILBERMAN: And what I realize now is that what it takes away from you as an actor in rehearsal is the other actors, and so there's that sense of play ... The reason we call it a "play", because we are all up here playing! Uh, I don't get that sense of play, it's only me in rehearsal. And it was tough, it was tough. It's really gonna be wonderful now to have an audience, because in this instance, in this play, there's not a fourth wall.
[cut back to Silberman on stage]
LIBRARIAN: January 25, 1971! Helen ... Shattock is walking her dog in Dayton when a frozen block of urine from the lavatory of a Pan Am jet falls, and hits her on die head, killing her instantly. Mind you ...
[he fiddles with the rubber stamp again]
LIBRARIAN: Same date, "1836."
[cut back to Silberman being interviewed]
DAVID SILBERMAN: I think the joy of this thing now for me, now that I've almost got my brain wrapped around these thirty eight pages of lines, enough that I can ... I can get out of my head a little bit as I work and not be so much in there, thinking about the lines. I can be playing the play. It's going to be a joy, because it's chocked full of wonderful ideas and surprises. It's got everything in it, I think, that a good play needs.
[cut back to Silberman on stage]
LIBRARIAN: Cetewayo, king of the Zulus is born! Oh yes! Oh yes, this stamper contains every birth in this room, not just Cetewayo's. And death. Yes, our deaths too ... somewhere.
[he looks down]
LIBRARIAN: My death is in here ... somewhere. I just don't know where.
[he looks up]
LIBRARIAN: Still ... Gives you a bit of respect for it, doesn't it? The stamper!
[he lets the date stamp hang down]
LIBRARIAN: So. Yes. So, each and every day I woke up, took the bus, no, no wife, no children, I lived alone, got to the bibliotheque, I put my labeled lunch in the employees' icebox, gave a but-just-perceptible nod to Brody van Brummelen. Fine fellow, works in reference. Fine fellow, I'm sure, except that I'm sure that he's not. And always angling for the acquisitions position that by all rights is mine, that is, I'm next in line! Em, arrived at my desk, yes that's next, quieted the patrons with a well-timed "Ssh" and advanced the date on my little stamper ... one notch.
[he holds up the stamper again]
LIBRARIAN: Now listen, the overnight slot is strictly for those books not overdue! But we checked anyway, that was my job, to check. Now and then, you'd get a book a day or two overdue, sometimes a week ... Once, it is said, a book was returned, in the slot mind you, three months overdue!
[cut to another shot of Silberman]
LIBRARIAN: Well, we got over it, but we weren't amused ... and neither was the violator when he saw the fine. Ho ho. Still, we'll proceed.
[cut back to Silberman being interviewed by Crowder]
DAVID SILBERMAN: It makes you laugh a little, it makes you think. It entertains you, it surprises you. Um, Glen Berger is a terrific young American playwright, so it's a treat to be able to do this.



Underneath the Lintel is a play by Glen Berger that premièred in 2001. The sole character - the Librarian - embarks on a quest to find out who anonymously returned a library book that is 113 years overdue. A clue scribbled in the margin of the book and an unclaimed dry-cleaning ticket then take him on a mysterious adventure that spans the globe and the ages.

The play begins with the Librarian appearing on stage, which is sparsely furnished with a whiteboard and marker pens, a magnetic bulletin board, and a table. The Librarian carries with him a battered suitcase. He informs the audience that he is giving a lecture for only one day about a discovery he has made.

The Librarian then opens his suitcase and begins to show the audience what he calls his "scraps": pieces of evidence each marked with numbered tags that provide evidence of a person whose identity is gradually revealed over the course of the play.

He starts with a copy of a Baedeker travel guide that was anonymously returned 113 years overdue to the library in the small Dutch town where he used to work. Tracking down the loan records of the book, he finds that the book was borrowed by one "A." who provided a post office box as his address. Inside the book, he finds a 73-year-old dry-cleaning ticket for an unclaimed piece of clothing in a London laundry shop. Intrigued, he takes leave from work to visit London. He finds that the laundry shop is still in business and, using the ticket, redeems a pair of trousers that has not been cleaned because of its poor condition.

Eventually, the audience learns that the person to whom all of the Librarian's items relate may be Ahasuerus the Wandering Jew, a mythical figure from medieval Christian folklore.



A decaying library book with scribbles in the margins (in multiple languages) comes back 113 years overdue. That'd get any librarian’s attention. Who borrowed the book, and why was it returned so late?

Inside the book is an equally ancient claim ticket from a Chinese laundry in London, which leads into a most unusual detective effort to ferret out clues.

This is the framework for Underneath the Lintel, an unorthodox one-man show featuring veteran actor David Silberman of Auburn - one of our favorite performers. Silberman is what's called a "character actor"; directors tap him constantly for supporting roles.

He's certainly playing "a character" in this show - a rumpled, elderly Dutch librarian, who uses words you sometimes need to look up in the dictionary. He's ordinarily polite and a tad formal, but capable of feisty, even crude outbursts. And the overdue book draws him from his obscure duties into a quirky, obsessive, one-man worldwide mystery mission of fabulous (as in, "of or like a fable, incredible") proportions.

Amazingly, this is Silberman's first one-man show, but he's fully in control as he fleshes out this thoroughly oddball character, gradually raising the stakes as bits of physical and theological "evidence" pile up. Playwright Glen Berger's brainy 2003 script presents strange things happening to a strange person - theoretically a "no-no" in terms of audience appeal. But in this show, it works out beautifully.

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