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Many reasons to see 'Underneath the Lintel'; 'Postmortem' at Theatre in the Round

Sally Wingert in a scene from “Underneath the Lintel.”
Photo by Dan Norman
Sally Wingert in a scene from “Underneath the Lintel.”

Every time we go to the Ritz Theater, we’re surprised by how big the stage is. It spans the width of the house. Low to the ground, it invites the action to spill over the edge and into the aisles.

In “Underneath the Lintel,” the play-with-music that opened at the Ritz last weekend, Sally Wingert owns every inch of the stage and beyond. She owns the walls. She owns the doors leading into the theater, one of which she bangs on to start things off.

Theater Latté Da’s production of Glen Berger’s play – originally without music, but director Peter Rothstein can’t help himself, he must have music – is a richly imaginative 90 minutes of theater. Written as a one-person play, it has three company members in Latté Da’s version. Musicians Dan Chouinard and Natalie Nowytski are on a raised platform at the back of the stage, behind a scrim. They’re hidden until they’re lit, when they emerge like people in a Holbein painting. Each reappearance reveals more of their surroundings, heaped with old suitcases.

Chouinard plays piano, accordion and chaplain’s organ, and he whistles. (If you ever need a whistler, Dan’s your man.) Nowytski plays string bass and sings. The score is new, created by Frank London of the Klezmatics, and it’s hard to imagine the play without it. The music adds so much color and emotion.

Wingert is a librarian in Holland, a single woman of a certain age who lost her only chance at love years ago. She’s cranky and set in her ways. It’s her job to handle the overnight returns. One morning she finds a well-worn Baedeker travel guide that was checked out in 1873 by a borrower who signed his name “A, with a period.” It’s 113 years overdue. The librarian (she doesn’t have a name) determines to track down the miscreant who returned the book and impose “the fine of his life.”

Turns out the librarian is one part book jockey, five parts Miss Marple. A bookmark in the Baedeker is a claim ticket for a pair of trousers in London. She goes to London. In a pocket of the still uncleaned, unclaimed pants is a ticket for a tram in Bonn, Germany. She goes to Bonn. Records there tell of a foul-smelling man with a curious hat who was thrown off a tram for refusing to sit. He had a dog. The dog’s name was Sabrina. No, actually, Zebrina, the official name of a houseplant commonly known as a Wandering Jew.

The myth of the Wandering Jew, cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming, winds through this “twisty mystery of a tale.” The story is told in monologue, on a chalkboard, with slides on a screen, and in bits of evidence, each with a dangling numbered tag, that Wingert pulls from valises she carries on stage in the opening moments.

There are many reasons to see this play: Wingert’s all-encompassing performance, London’s music, Michael Hoover’s minimalist yet evocative scenic design, and the Rube Goldberg-like construction of the play itself, where one impossible thing leads to another. It’s a work both playful and serious, with touches of the divine. And Wingert, as we said, owns it, whether crowing over her cleverness at unraveling another clue or declaring her presence in the world, “I Am Here!”

“Underneath the Lintel” continues at the Ritz through July 1. FMI and tickets ($29-49).

The picks

Today (Wednesday, June 6) through Sunday at Mia: “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty.” Conceived and designed by theater icon Robert Wilson, this once-in-a-lifetime exhibit really, truly closes Sunday. (It was extended past its original closing date of May 27.) If you haven’t yet seen it – or if you have and want to see it again – tick-tick-tick. Here’s what we thought when we saw it in February. We’ll probably go back for one last look. FMI and tickets ($20/16).

Gallery 5 at “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty”
MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Gallery 5 at “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty”

Thursday at Magers & Quinn: “Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat.” Well, they did. But why did young Americans in the 1960s start eating brown rice and whole-wheat bread? How did alfalfa, sprouts, tofu and tahini make their way to tiny towns all across the country? Why were so many children forced to eat carob candy? In conversation with food writer Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, author Jonathan Kauffmann will spill the beans. 7 p.m. Free. 

Friday at First Avenue: “Let’s Go Crazy V: Annual Transmission Tribute to Prince Featuring DJ Jake Rudh.” Rudh’s “Transmission” dance night has been a staple on the Twin Cities scene for years. His annual Prince tribute is near and dear to the hearts of Prince fans. 9 p.m., 18+. FMI and tickets ($12 advance/$15 door).

Friday and Saturday at the O’Shaughnessy: Zenon Dance Company 35th Anniversary Spring Season. Back in St. Paul after eight years, Zenon will perform a program of signature repertory by Kyle Abraham (“My Quarreling Heart”), Danny Buraczeski (“Song Awakened,” set to songs of Cesária Évora), and Stefanie Batten Bland (“Appétit”), and a world premiere by emerging New York choreographer Ori Flomin (“Threads”). 7:30 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($15-32).

Zenon Dance Company
Photo by Bill Cameron
Zenon Dance Company performing “Song Awakened,” by Danny Buraczeski, and set to songs of Cesária Évora.

Friday through Sunday at Theatre in the Round: “Postmortem.” What can you learn from portraying Sherlock Holmes? Earlier this week in London, Benedict Cumberbatch jumped out of an Uber to save a cyclist who was being attacked by four men. In Ken Ludwig’s play, an actor famous for playing Holmes must solve a murder revealed during a late-night séance. Mark L. Mattison stars as the great detective; Lynn Musgrave directs the seven-member cast. The game’s afoot at the West Bank theater on Fridays through Sundays for the next three weekends. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. FMI and tickets ($22).

Coming up

It’s not too soon to plan for this. On Thursday, Sept. 6, Graywolf Press will host its third annual Literary Salon. “Voices for Our Time” will feature Jamel Brinkley, Tarfia Faizullah and Wayétu Moore. Brinkley’s story collection, “A Lucky Man,” tells of the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them. Faizullah’s poetry collection “Registers of Illuminated Villages” transforms accounts of violence, war and loss into poems of many forms and voices. Moore’s forthcoming novel, “She Would be King,” is a retelling of Liberia’s formation through three characters. Graywolf’s Fiona McCrae and Jeff Shotts will moderate the program, with musical performances by the Davu Seru Trio. What a smart evening this will be. At Aria. 6-9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($35/160).  

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