Milwaukee Chamber Theatre has been doing a really good job of tackling the challenges posed by COVID. The pre-recorded productions that the group has been bringing to the internet are among the most satisfying that Milwaukee has had to offer. This month MCT opens its production of Glen Berger’s Underneath the Lintel. The production stars Elyse Edelman as a librarian giving a presentation regarding the mystery of a library book that had been retuned 113 years overdue. A dry cleaning ticket and a number scribbled into the margin of the book serve as the opening of a long and winding story told with great enthusiasm in a one-woman show that’s online this month.
Traditionally the one-character play draws a great deal of appeal from the strength of a single performer onstage drawing-in an audience for a sustained, intermission-less 90 minutes or so. It would take a very unique kind of energy to translate that energy to the screen for an online production. Edelman plays a librarian from Holland who travels far to discover the mystery of the book’s history. Edelman’s Dutch accent is warm and deeply engaging. She brings a very sophisticated reality to the stage aided only by a slide projector, blackboard and irrepressible intellectual exuberance. A video format would theoretically tempt a director to add-in superfluous elements intended to amplify the production. MCT Artistic Director Brent Hazelton shrewdly allows Edelman a stylishly minimalist production.
The playwright hands Edelman numerous difficulties that the actress finesses with a strikingly deft poise. Berger’s script requires the librarian to be an expert storyteller gradually unveiling the elegant convolutions of the story. Edelman does the brilliantly. Berger’s script requires the actor playing the librarian to be vulnerable while wielding a great inner strength. Edelman plays the librarian’s arcane constellation of trivia with a beautifully idiosyncratic appeal that swims in and around Berger’s script. The complex intricacies of the mystery can make the librarian feel like a bit of an obsessive schizophrenic obsessing away at minor trivialities even as her life seems to be falling apart in the process, but Edelman draws strength from the character’s love of the mystery that’s truly inspiring.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre staged a production of Underneath the Lintel back in 2013. James Ridge played the librarian. Like that live staged production, Edelman’s pre-recorded performance engages audiences in a journey through the fringes of history that reaches into the heart of human curiosity. There are moments in every mystery thriller in which intrepid investigators discuss clues that they have run across in the course of their struggles. (It’s one of the better elements of any good mystery story.) Berger’s script lives exclusively in those moments. Like Ridge before her the better part of a decade ago, Edelman finds the energy of those moments with graceful tenacity. Edelman is an immensely appealing video Sherlock Holmes for any number of living room Watsons.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Underneath the Lintel is available through May 2nd. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online.