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Cinnabar’s ‘Underneath the Lintel’ a comical, cosmic adventure

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: “Underneath the Lintel,” by Glen Berger

When: Feb. 1- 17. Show times: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: Tickets run $28-$30, and are available at the box office (while seats remain), online at CinnabarTheater.org, or by calling 763-8920 during standard daytime office hours.

Information: Get details about this show and Cinnabar Theater at CinnabarTheater.org.

One man. One suitcase. A nearly empty stage.

And a whopper of a story to tell.

That’s the setup for Glen Berger’s oddly named, mesmerizingly plotted, single-actor play “Underneath the Lintel,” which Cinnabar Theater presents beginning this weekend. The production, directed by John Craven and featuring a performance by John Shillington (“Time Goes By,” “The Price”), is a re-mounting of the one staged at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West Theater in 2014. Berger’s labor of love debuted in 2001, and has since become one of the most oft-staged modern monodramas (theater speak for a one-person show) in the English language.

Glen Berger is best known as the playwright behind the infamous Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” with songs by Bono and The Edge of U2. Berger wrote of that experience in the bestselling book “Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History.” It is a bit ironic that the author of one of Broadway’s biggest, gaudiest failures was also responsible for an unassuming little script, possessed of a gentle power that springs from its own smallness, a play with a quiet popularity that just keeps going and going and going.

“I love this play, and of course, I love the Librarian,” says Shillington, hanging out backstage at Cinnabar while director Craven finishes up a production meeting with the show’s stage manager and various designers. The Librarian is the character Shillington plays. A shy, lonely, unadventurous Swedish fellow (with, perhaps, a previously unseen tendency toward obsessive compulsion), his curiosity is piqued when someone slips an overdue book through the night drop at the library. The book turns out to be have been borrowed 113 years ago, and the accumulated fines are a small fortune. Initially just hoping to collect, the Librarian turns sleuth, heading out onto what becomes a globe-trotting search for whoever it was who checked out that book. It’s the kind of cosmic, mystery-fantasy that not only gets its narrative hooks into its audiences. The play has clearly also hooked Shillington. “When John and I did this in Sebastopol, four or five years ago,” he says, “I kept the idea in the back of my mind that I might need to do it again in the future. To see what it would mean to me later on in my life. That’s why I kept the suitcase after that run of the show. Just in case. I’ve had it in storage all this time.”

The suitcase. That, in a way, is the closest thing the Librarian has to a co-star in “Underneath the Lintel.” Filled with “scraps” of little artifacts, pieces of paper and other findings, the Librarian collects a mounting assemblage of what he calls “An impressive presentation of lovely evidences.” That’s the name of the “lecture” he plans to give when he arrives, at the start of the show, in a small rundown room he’s barely able to afford the rent on, where he will tell his audience exactly what he’s come to believe about the person who returned that book and sent him off on a life-changing mission.

His conclusion, made after producing and displaying all the “evidences” in the suitcase, is nothing short of astounding, challenging our understanding of time, life, and even (possibly) God.

“It’s so good,” grins Shillington, “watching as an audience absorbs the enormity of what their being told. As an actor, watching words have such an affect on people is just the greatest thing in the world.”

PLANNING TO GO?

What: “Underneath the Lintel,” by Glen Berger

When: Feb. 1- 17. Show times: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: Tickets run $28-$30, and are available at the box office (while seats remain), online at CinnabarTheater.org, or by calling 763-8920 during standard daytime office hours.

Information: Get details about this show and Cinnabar Theater at CinnabarTheater.org.

One should know that, though the title of the play is decidedly vague and a bit confusing, there is a very good reason that Berger’s philosophical tour-de-force is dubbed “Underneath the Lintel.” To explain it would be to spoil one of the script’s juiciest surprises. Suffice it to say that “lintel” is an archaic word meaning a horizontal support made of timber, stone or steel, running across the top of a door or a window.

“We’ve had some new insights, as we’ve been rehearsing this,” says Craven, the meeting having ended, now joining Shillington back stage. “That happens when you come back to a thing after a few years. You see something new, something you didn’t catch the first time, and you wonder if there’s a way to interject that new thing into the show.”

Asked what brings him back to the play, as a director, Craven says it’s like getting a second chance to root through an attic filled with treasures.

“I think this is just a great theatrical piece,” he says. “It has so much richness in it, you can keep digging in and digging in, deeper and deeper, and you’ll always find something new.”

As for Shillington, he says that he’s enjoying this new production every bit as much as the first one. Possibly even more.

“I’m so aware of it being an honor to do this piece,” he says, “whereas before it was all about trying to get the lines memorized, and there are a lot of lines. It was such a huge task, but now I’m not as fearful of that. I’ve done it, so I know it’s possible to take this journey. It’s a comedy, of course. It’s a very funny play. But it does touch upon certain ‘mortality issues,’ and now that I’m a little older, and a little closer to death, I think I have a better understanding of those issues and how to approach them.”

So, would Shillington and Craven be willing to do this show a third time, maybe in another four or five years? They both say yes.

“Oh, I definitely hope to do it again five years from now,” laughs Shillington. “And then five years after that, and on and on until I can’t do it anymore. That’s my goal. And I think the Librarian would approve.”