Traveling the world from my seat
Last Theater, I was taken on an exciting goose chase through Europe, China, Australia and even to the 14th century, all in a librarian’s attempt to solve the mystery of an overdue library book.
The play, Underneath the Lintel or The Mystery of the Abandoned Trousers, written by Glen Berger and performed by Triad Stage, was many things: A storyteller, a mystery, a history lesson, a comedy and even a thought-provoker.
In short, the play showcases a librarian turned detective after discovering a 113-year overdue library book. After mailing a quick letter about the fine, she thinks all is taken care of until she finds a cleaner’s ticket for a pair of unclaimed trousers””made more than a hundred years ago. As she begins to track down answers, she finds only more questions and soon becomes obsessed with the myth of the “wandering Jew.”
The play pokes fun at a few relatable things like Chinese food (and the runs), taking sick leave when you’re not sick, the musical Les Miserables and, most importantly, the most popular form of graffiti, “I was here.”
For that last notion, the play doesn’t simply poke fun at conceited teenagers, it takes it a step further, and a step deeper, digging into the message and our human need for others to know that we existed.
In one clever swoop, the playwright took something that seemed so trivial and childish and turned it into a human truth “” a comment on our existence and how insignificant our lives and deaths will be in a thousand years.
That one comment sums up the play quite nicely, actually.
It’s a nice balance between a serious exploration and a funny and entertaining tale.
The one-woman show, which was actually originally written for a man, took theater back to its roots, letting the audience become enthralled by a story and connecting with its sole storyteller.
Kate Goehring as the librarian, not only tells an enticing story, paced by her tone, inflections and dramatic pauses, but she also creates a character that I both cared about and related to. Actually, she got me to care about characters that never even made it to the stage””but were simply acted out by her.
Goehring (from Triad Stage’s The Glass Menagerie) did anything to make the story come alive. She wore pots as hats, drew pictures, played recordings, gave a slideshow with an old-fashioned projector and demonstrated the “evidence” on an old chalkboard. My favorite talent of hers is her ability to deliver a good punch line.
Since Goehring was onstage alone and acting as her own co-stars, it was the set, designed by Nicholas Hussong, that helped her move the story along. The chalkboard, record player, projector and projector screen helped her to tell her story and take the audience across lands and centuries.
Along with an old fan and a pile of wooden chairs, the props both hinted at the scene of an old-fashioned library, while also setting the actual scene of an abandoned theater””one that Though much of the story relies on Goehring’s tone of voice, few special effects added emphasis and variety where needed. Drapes of plastic sheets proved useful when the librarian retells a confrontation with her boss. As she steps behind the sheets to mock both sides of the story, her shadow grows and shrinks according to her character.
Sometimes soft music helped to slow the story down and added emphasis to the librarian’s discovery. Other times simple sound effects, like the ambient noises of a crowd or the clanking of cobbler’s tools, helped to bring the librarian’s story to life.
Overall, I’ll admit that I was a bit worried about seeing a oneman show””as there’s the possibility that it can become monotonous. But just as I was with Triad Stage’s Billy Bishop Goes to War, I was pleasantly surprised and didn’t find it difficult at all to follow along. The story was mysteriously interesting, well told, and I even enjoyed a few exciting aha moments. !
Triad Stage presents Underneath the Lintel or The Mystery of the Abandoned Trousers this week through Oct. 5 at the Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 Spruce St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $10-$48. For tickets and more information visit triadstage.org or call 272-0160.