Thursday, November 12, 2009

Around the world on behalf of a book

Dear Friends,

I hope my words find you well. Here is a review regarding The Centenary Stage Company’s Production of “Underneath the Lintel” which is continuing its run until November 22nd. Please feel free to explore their website at for more information. I look forward to hearing from you soon and I’ll keep a good thought for you until then.


Around the world on behalf of a book
By Peter Filichia/For The Star-Ledger
November 11, 2009

What a difference seven years on “The West Wing” can make for an actor.

Back in 2006, when Richard Schiff bounded onto the stage of a New Jersey theater to perform “Underneath the Lintel,” he got a warm and enthusiastic round of applause before he’d said a word.
Now, when Steven Dennis enters at Centenary Stage Company to do the same play, he’s greeted by silence.
That’s the fate for an actor who does play after play on a Hackettstown stage, instead of a series in a Hollywood TV studio.

Ah, but at the end of Dennis’ one-man marathon, the audience makes it up to this splendid performer. The cheers let him know just how magnificent he was.

Dennis portrays a character simply known as “the librarian.” Playwright Glen Berger considers this man such a nonentity that he won’t even bother to give him a name. Indeed, the librarian is so meek that he may feel he doesn’t deserve one.

The diminutive Dennis starts out as man who seems unaccustomed to public speaking, with the delivery of an eccentric if not quite nutty professor. His story starts out unassumingly, as he recounts manning the overnight slot into which people deposit their returned books.

But one book turns out to be 113 years overdue.

Dennis conveys well the outrage that this officious librarian feels. When he discovers that the borrower signed out with only the letter “A,” he’s as scandalized as the Puritans were when Hester Prynne sinned.
His moral code demands that he get to the bottom of the “crime” and make certain that the offender pays the hefty fine. To start tracking him down, The librarian consults an atlas. Suddenly Dennis trades in his agitated face for a small smile when he says, “I’ve always liked atlases. They allow you to travel all over the world without the expense.”

Without the fun, too. But the librarian is about to have plenty of adventure as he goes literally to the ends of the Earth to find the offender. Dennis’ furrowed brow and nervous demeanor disappear as a much wider smile embraces his face. “I was a regular detective,” he says, feeling alive for the first time in a long time — perhaps in his life.

After he is away from everybody and everything, The librarian finally finds the time to discover who he really is inside. Like anyone who talks too much, he winds up revealing more of himself than he originally expected.

He also does, in a manner of speaking, find the person responsible for the overdue book. It’s neither a zombie nor Bigfoot; Berger has a much more profound agenda going on here about “things we cannot understand.”

The librarian is established as a citizen of Holland, so Dennis must adopt a Dutch accent. He sustains it beautifully for the show’s entire 75-minute length — except when he must mimic the voices of the foreigners he meets on the journey. There he’s entirely successful, too.

“Underneath the Lintel” could be slow going without an expert actor on hand. What fascinates the librarian about an overdue book might not strike the same chord in all theatergoers. Dennis, though, so commands an audience’s attention that he prevents any dull spots from intruding. Credit director Carl Wallnau, too, for keeping the actor honest and focused.

The action is punctuated with handsome slides that show London, Peking and other cities.

Fine destinations. But the serious theatergoer is urged to get to Hackettstown, too.

Peter Filichia may be reached at

Underneath the Lintel
Where: Centenary Stage Company, 400 Jefferson St., Hackettstown
When: Through Nov. 22. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 2:30 and 8 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
How much: $17.50 matinees, $20 evening performances, except Saturdays, which are $25. Call (908) 979-0900 or visit

Photograph provided by The Centenary Stage Company and taken by Carl Wallnau which depicts Steven Dennis as the Librarian in the Centenary Stage Company’s production of “Underneath the Lintel” presented in Hackettstown, NJ through Sunday November

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