For the past eight years I’ve been performing Glen Berger’s terribly titled but brilliantly written play; Underneath the Lintel. (Not lentil; “lintel”. It’s the horizontal top of a door frame) I still cringe a bit whenever I have to say (or write) the title.
Oh, for a fringe show with a title like: Burlesque Hamlet Codpiece Nude Extravaganza! You know, a title that insists on ending with an exclamation point!
I first happened upon said poorly-titled-but-brilliantly-written-play about ten years ago while living in Los Angeles. A friend told me the prestigious Portland (Oregon) Center Stage was holding auditions.
“Eeewww”, I thought… “A one-man–show”.
Now, I’d been acting for over four decades but had never gotten that bug. I found the thought of being onstage alone for an hour or more quite intimidating. I had a lot of friends in L.A. who did stand-up and they many times suggested I give it a shot, but the thought of even a ten or twenty minute set was unnerving.
But the character description of a fussy librarian was right in my wheelhouse, so I got ahold of the script and was blown away by how cleverly Berger packed so much humor and fodder for thought into this wretchedly titled, quirky one-man-show.
(As one reviewer described: ““Underneath the Lintel”… is a complex mythology in an epic, globetrotting quest that spans continents and centuries, delving into the conflict of futility and purpose in life, ultimately answering the meaning of the universe along with the question of God’s existence. And all this is done in an hour with one actor.” 5 out of 5 stars!)
It really is brilliant.
So I got myself an audition time.
The Portland producers had instructed us auditionees to prepare three selected monologues from the script. I had a week or so, so I knuckled down and spent the intervening days memorizing. I even rented out for an hour the studio in which the auditions were to be held so as to get used to the ambiance of the room. I’d never prepared so diligently for an audition in my life.
The day came and the waiting room was filled with other fussy librarian types, many of whose elbows I’d rubbed at various auditions. We were all marveling about the script and character. More than a few comments were made about the title, but it was clear, nonetheless, that we all wanted this one…bad.
My time came; named called; into the room; the quick-sweaty-palmed- introductions across the table and I launched into the first of the three requested pieces.
It went well. Very well, I thought, and I plunged confidently into the second monologue.
But midsentence I heard someone from the table say something. Was the director giving me a direction? I stopped; said; “excuse me?” And she, this time a bit more forcefully, repeated: “Thank you.”
“Thank you.” We actors know this is not necessarily an expression of gratitude.
The walk back to my car was difficult, what with that tail between my legs.
“Maybe I nailed it”, my ego suggested. “Maybe I was so great that they didn’t need to see the other two monologues”.
But I knew better. And the terribly titled script took its’ place on my shelf with a slew of other unperformed plays.
But fast forward a few years after I had moved back to the Twin Cities. I was doing a play at a venerable old theater and gave Mr. Berger’s wretchedly titled script to the artistic director. She was skeptical; she’d never heard of it. And it was her job to know about good scripts. “What’s a lintel?” she asked. I told her. She didn’t seem impressed.
I wondered if she would even read it. But she did. And she loved it; and wondered how such a brilliant script had escaped her many annual searches for plays to produce. I suggested maybe because of the horseshit title. She agreed.
So, long story short, I’ve been performing the gem on & off for the past eight years; some one hundred fifty times. (Including the 2013 Capital Fringe that sold out 4 performances, so get your tickets early!)
And have performed it untold times in my mind on long walks or in the car driving to various Fringe festivals across the US and Canada. There have been stretches when I put it aside to work on other projects, but when I return to it and refresh it in my memory on those walks and drives, it’s like revisiting a dear old friend. And when I wake up on a day in which I will perform the show I’m always stirred by those butterflies of anticipation that spur me through the day until I step onstage.
I Love this show and hope to ride it into my too, too quickly approaching sunset.
Thank You, Mr. Berger, for your brilliantly written play.
p.s. I’m performing in another Capital Fringe show; a Vintage Theater production two-hander titled: Whisper Into My Good Ear. All showtimes are back to back with Lintel.
Patrick O’Brien returned to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul nine years ago after twenty-two years in L.A. He’s been in dozens of films including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Pleasantville, Stuart Little, Intolerable Cruelty, and Catch Me If You Can. He’s guest starred in dozens of TV shows including E.R., C.S.I., The West Wing, Monk, Reba, Home Improvement, Married With Children, Sabrina, The Wonder Years, Night Court, and, (if you’re under 40) was Mr. Dewey on Saved By The Bell. He’s performed with the New York, New Jersey, and Los Angeles Shakespeare Festivals; The Pasadena, Cleveland, and La Jolla Playhouses; The Arizona Theatre Company, The Old Globe in San Diego, the Arena Stage in D.C., and many theatres in the Minneapolis area; including the The Guthrie. For the last eight years he’s been touring his productions of Underneath The Lintel and Tom Stoppard’s Heroes across the US and Canada. In 2010 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, The University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. More at patobrientheatrics.com.
Underneath the Lintel
July 19 — July 24, 2016
MLK Jr Memorial Library
901 G Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
Show details and tickets