Owen Carey

Underneath the Lintel
Portland Center Stage at PCPA, 1111 SW Broadway, Tues-Wed & Sun 7 pm, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sat-Sun 2 pm, through Oct. 30, $15-56

The pages of this very paper and others have heralded the Portland coming of New York playwright Glen Berger, author of last season's fantastical, marvelous O Lovely Glowworm. But where Glowworm balanced its blend of World War I history, mermaids, and talking stuffed goats with dreamlike precision, Berger's Second Coming, the one-man show Underneath the Lintel, gets mired in its own cleverness.

Oregon native Time Winters is "the Librarian," a Dutchman living in a provincial town. When a book gets returned to his library 113 years late, he embarks on a quest to track the guilty borrower down, enthusiastically playing detective and unearthing a stream of clues that leads him on a rambling journey back and forth across the world. As the "lovely evidences" regarding the phantom borrower's origin mount, so too do details from the Librarian's own life, and it becomes clear he is a lost and lonely soul desperate to find meaning in his existence.

Lintel's geographical/historical zigzag is a brilliant platform for Berger to explore with zeal his favorite theme: man/woman's purpose in an incomprehensively vast universe. But there's a fine line between zeal and hyperactivity, and as Berger's script moves from lighthearted mystery adventure to existential rumination, the ideas start to crowd each other a bit. With the pretense of a public lecture as his guide, Winters' performance is an absolute race to stuff in everything in just 80 minutes. He scribbles maniacally on chalkboards, hangs up key documents, and shows slides with barely a pause to catch his breath. The pacing has the double effect of glossing over the script's philosophical subtext, and rushing the comic timing. It's a shame, because even though Lintel lacks the all-encompassing poetic/lunatic bliss of Glowworm, it still flexes Berger's linguistic flair and offbeat humor. Lines about a woman getting killed by a "frozen block of urine from the lavatory of a Pan Am jet" are pure gold, and are lost in Winters' and director Nancy Keystone's frantic shuffle.