Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Sally Wingert Shines in Underneath the Lintel

Some people are just made for certain parts. 


Photo by Dan Norman

Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Iron Man. Denzel Washington was thoroughly destined to be Malcom X. Who but Idina Menzel could have originated Elphaba? Or who could have breathed life into the Phantom other than Michael Crawford?

Sally Wingert's latest performance as The Librarian in Underneath the Lintel at Theater Latte Da is just such an epochal turn. This one woman show can only succeed with an eccentric, charismatic personality at its core, and Wingert turns in a magnetic performance that carries the show with aplomb. It's impossible to imagine someone else fitting the bill, and I'd call it a star-making turn if Wingert weren't already such an established local #tctheater legend.

Photo by Dan Norman
Underneath the Lintel begins with Wingert making a harried entrance through a hallway side door. Laden with a cadre of eclectic baggage, she quickly disassembles the pile of aged props on stage - dusty chalkboard, chipped desk, manual slide projector - into a war room of sorts. Thus equipped, The Librarian leads the audience on a whirlwind quest to solve the mysterious identity of the patron who returned a 113 year overdue book through the library's mail slot. With a determined air and a series of unbelievable calculations, The Librarian does find an answer to her quest - but not without enormous sacrifice and difficulty along the way. I don't want to spoil the mystery of the show by saying any more (after all, isn't the caper effect the whole point of the fun?), but suffice it to say: the answer involves a thoroughly mystical figure that will leave you with some spooky chills as it is revealed.

Photo by Dan Norman

As I mentioned, Underneath the Lintel really requires charisma to sell this part. The Librarian is difficult, headstrong, particular and erratic, and to feel engaged with her character we need to trust our actor. Wingert is an ideal choice, granting a direct delivery and no-bullshit attitude that appear capable instead of rude (an important distinction), and we are buying into her riddle from the get-go. Dan Chouinard and Natalie Nowytsksi remain eerily obscure as the silent musicians throughout the show, and they provide a supernatural soundtrack that well-suits the plot. There isn't much set or costuming to speak of - this one-act show is done without a change of scenery or costume - which is deceptively simple and evocative. Wingert's expert wielding of the mountain of evidentiary props keeps things from getting too dull, and it's amazing how quickly she places us in myriad settings with just a few small objects, effects, and some vivid monologue.

Photo by Dan Norman

What's interesting about this show is that for such a light on-stage presence there is a veritable Ferris Wheel of people on the production team. As the director, Peter Rothstein appears to have (wisely) let Wingert run her own show and surrounded her with a crack team to provide whatever animation she preferred. Barry Browning's lighting design and John Acarregui's sound design are probably the two standout design elements. Combined with the exhaustive props design from Abbee Warmboe, they speed up the action by creating diverse effect with little on-stage change, and it's a great demonstration of how important effective background work is in pulling off even a seemingly straightforward performance.

Photo by Dan Norman

There are some cringeworthy elements of Underneath the Lintel's script (particularly in references to people of different races and cultures) that haven't aged particularly well. That isn't the fault of the performers, however, and if the opportunity arose to tweak them it would fix any small quibbles I have with the show. If you're a big Sally Wingert fan (and honestly, who isn't?) you will not be disappointed with Underneath the Lintel. I've never seen a show like it and it will definitely keep your wheels turning while you watch. For more information or to buy tickets to see Underneath the Lintel before it closes on July 1, click on this link.