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A librarian's obsession with a book that's 113 years overdue in 'Underneath the Lintel'

A librarian's obsession with a book that's 113 years overdue in 'Underneath the Lintel'
Ayre Gross in "Underneath the Lintel" at the Geffen Playhouse.

Since its 2001 premiere at L.A.'s Actors' Gang, Glen Berger's "Underneath the Lintel" has been produced prolifically, from New York to London and beyond. Berger's philosophically dense picaresque is a prime opportunity for a gifted solo performer.

Arye Gross is by turns puckish and profound in the production (subtitle: "An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences") running at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. However, despite his charm, the plot wears a bit thin.

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The play is essentially an extended monologue delivered by a rumpled Librarian (Gross), whose Prufrockian existence is measured out if not in coffee spoons then in overdue books. To date, the Librarian's raison d'être has been levying fines on those "miscreants" who haven't returned their books on time.

However, when a Baedeker's travel guide is slipped through the library's overnight slot some 113 years late, the Librarian becomes increasingly obsessed in tracking the book's borrower. Making a flimsy excuse to his employers, he empties his bank accounts and travels around the globe for answers. As he uncovers clues along the way, his investigation becomes a magical mystery tour leading back to the time of Christ and the poignant legend of the Wandering Jew — the fulcrum upon which the play's teeter-totter events ultimately hinge.

Director Steven Robman's unobtrusive staging, combined with the deceptively simple design elements — most notably Jason H. Thompson's projection design — center Gross' authoritative performance. Although the Librarian's venture eventually results in joblessness and disaster, he salvages self-enlightenment from the wreckage of his life. Gross carefully charts his character's progression from buttoned-down primness to quixotic zeal, to awakening regret, to defiant joy. It's a triumphant turn that never falters, even when the material does.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘Underneath the Lintel: An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences’

Where: Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; ends Nov. 19

Tickets: $25-$90

Info: (310) 208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.org

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

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