Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Footprints in the sand.. (Underneath the Lintel)

Its always slightly worrying going to see a play starring an actor from one of your favourite TV shows in it. Especially if he is the only actor in the piece. What if you can't get past the fact its Toby from the West Wing on stage?

Well the moment Richard Schiff stumbles onto the stage in Underneath the Lintel all my fears were banished. Although most famous for his TV roles Schiff cut his teeth acting and directing Off-Broadway, and that experience shines through. For 90 minutes he holds the audience in the palm of his hand, tracing the descent into obssesion of his quiet unassuming Dutch Librarian.

Outraged by the return of a travel guide 113 years late the Librarian was slowly drawn into a quest to find the miscreant who has so offended the rules of his small world, finding traces of "A." dotted throughout the world and history. The Librarian is now, in a dingy basement hall exhibiting these 'evidences' to support his theory that this wanderer is in fact the mythical 'wandering Jew' a cobbler cursed by Jesus for stopping him resting on his way Golgotha to endlessly wander the earth without rest, and without anybody knowing who he was.

The plays messages that in the end we have few real choices, and that despite our short lives of sound and fury we little lasting trace on history, are hardly uplifiting. But I left the play strangely elated, entranced by a masterclass in understated acting.

The play isn't perfect by anymeans. The text sags in the second half failing to truely deliver on a brilliant set-up, and the sound design at times intrudes. But Schiff's performance papers over these cracks. Well worth seeing if you get the chance.

[A pedant writes, one slight annoying point, in the extremly unlikely event the playwright ever reads this. The Earls Derby's estate is not in Derby but Knowsley near Liverpool]


Blogger Peter Mc said...

Schiff was on the Mayo (R 5 LIve) yesterday: lots of email and texts raving about the play. He sounded a throrougly nice, unpretentious chap, too.

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