Arts & Culture
1:51 pm
Wed February 20, 2013

Long Overdue Book Inspires Librarian's Search for Culprit in "Underneath the Lintel"

Lake Effect's Bonnie North interviews actor James Ridge and director C. Michael Wright.

Have you ever kept an overdue library book for an extended period of time? How about 113 years?

In Glen Berger’s play Underneath the Lintel, currently being performed by the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, one Dutch librarian is out to catch the family that had that book checked out for much longer than the standard three weeks.

Old library books can acrue fines, too.
Credit Flickr

The play was brought to Milwaukee by director C. Michael Wright. Wright first saw it in New York shortly after 9/11. It was originally written in 1999, but it did not get off Broadway until late fall 2001. He bought the script and put it on the shelf, waiting for the right time to perform it.

Funny thing was, an actual Dutch librarian had also sent Wright a published copy of the script along with a postcard suggesting that he have it performed.  Years later, when Wright pulled the script from the shelf, the postcard was sticking out, and he decided it was time.

“I love what it has to say about the world and our place in it. It’s just about the search; breaking out of their small, little life and searching, like really actually searching for the first time in his life for ‘What am I doing here?’”—actor James Ridge

Starring actor James Ridge, this one-man show features a “retired” Dutch librarian whose main duty is to empty the overnight book drops. Somebody returns a book in 1986 that was checked out in November 1873, and this librarian is not going to let the family get away without paying the fine. To find the culprit, he rents out a studio for one night and he hopes that people will come and listen to his story.

“What’s best about this piece is that this man, who is the least likely person to be presenting a theatrical presentation, is the leading character.”—director C. Michael Wright

Ridge and Wright agree that the main character is "not necessarily comfortable or astute on stage, but he is determined and he is driven and so excited about the task at hand. And he’s quirky, which is where the humor comes.”

The librarian has a vast knowledge of random facts and loves wordplay. He comes out on stage with a box full of “evidence,” essentially a few toys plus a slide projector and a chalkboard that he has to play with in order to solve this case. The librarian is not entirely sure who is the felon right away, but he and the audience solve the mystery as the show progresses.

As a solo actor, Ridge had to work with some challenges. He says he intensely studied the script because it is so thematically strong, coupled with all the words and facts. Berger had so many layers to peel back, Ridge says it took him some time to figure out exactly what this character was about. Plus, Ridge says being the only person on stage the entire time can be intimidating and taxing. Ridge says that it takes a lot of energy and focus to stay connected to the audience for that long. However, Ridge fell in love with the character and his tendencies, which makes the performance for him and the audience even better.