Friday, February 03, 2006

Correction: Richard Schiff to Perform in New Jersey This January

The West Wing News Blog apologizes for mistakenly reporting that Richard Schiff will be performing in New York City. The theater is in fact in New Jersey.

From the Trenton Times:
" Capacity audiences may have filled the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick since Jan. 10 to see Emmy Award-winning actor Richard Schiff -- familiar as President Bartlet's director of communications Toby Ziegler on TV's "The West Wing" -- star in "Underneath the Lintel," but the lobby buzz after performances has been as much about Glen Berger's enigmatic one-act, one-character play as about the thrill of seeing a TV star in person.
Schiff plays an unnamed Dutch librarian who finds a travel book that's 113 years overdue in the after-hours return slot he tends. The book's history for the past century, carefully chronicled by marginal notes and bits of folded paper, sends the librarian on a quest that takes him around the world, both physically and psychologically.

The character, giving a lecture in a grubby hall in which the Playhouse audience is his audience, is charming -- and Schiff plays him with rumpled appeal. Whether one appreciates the philosophical underpinnings of his global quest, the intensity and variety of his search is enthralling."

Review From Backstage:
"Underneath the Lintel, a detective story in the form of a play, packed the 375-seat George Street Playhouse during its four-performance opening weekend. Just goes to show that people love a good story, especially when it starts with a library book being returned 113 years overdue.

Director Maria Mileaf's casting of Richard Schiff, the Emmy-winning actor who plays Toby Ziegler on TV's The West Wing, in the role of the Librarian certainly generated interest in this solo 90-minute show. But you wouldn't know his pedigree from the program: Schiff's biography says only, "For my friend, John Spencer," his West Wing co-star, who died suddenly last December.
Schiff gives an excellent performance, tossing off Berger's comments and observations, which result in frequent laughter. His character's passion for solving the mystery is palpable. His accent, clothes, and attitude draw us into a world that becomes increasingly more bizarre as he tracks down clues on different continents. Then, quite suddenly, the story shifts from finding "A" to the Librarian finding himself, after he is fired and his employment record is expunged. He needs to prove, as the play puts it, that "I was here." But unlike Mr. A., the Librarian has a finite amount of time. He becomes increasingly more desperate. We begin to wonder if he is losing his grip on reality or if he lost it soon after he began his timeless, endless quest.

The set (by Neil Patel) is a rented lecture hall the Librarian enters with the house lights still on, carrying a suitcase he calls "a box of scraps...significant scraps." He pulls out various pieces of evidence to prove his case. And very slowly, he sounds more and more convincing. When the play shifts gears from relaxed storytelling mode to frenetic philosophical treatise, it is quite jarring, as if Berger were in a hurry to meet some 90-minute deadline. But as Schiff sails through the play's final minutes, he has no doubt left an impression. One wonders what different conclusions Sherlock Holmes might have arrived at with similarly improbable clues."

Review from the Daily Record (includes large photo of Schiff in character):
"If you saw a miracle, would you recognize it?

Food for thought served by "Underneath the Lintel," a thought-provoking slice of drama, seasoned with gentle humor, now on the menu at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick.

And your waiter for the evening is a familiar face -- Richard Schiff, best known for playing acerbic communications director Toby Ziegler on TV's "The West Wing." The Emmy winner, taking advantage of some down time (his character has been fired and, like many of the original "West Wing" staff, is seen less these days as the storyline focuses on the new presidential campaign), pulls this stage shift on his own as the play's single character, a rumpled Dutch librarian whose quiet, sheltered life is disrupted by an overdue book.

Much is expected of an actor with his pedigree, and Schiff doesn't disappoint. Speaking directly to the audience, he immerses himself in a fascinating character, full of uncertainty, yet desperate to convince us of what he knows to be certain. And, while the character is clearly out of his element while speaking to an audience, Schiff seems to thrive in the setting.

He surprises the audience, without benefit of introduction or dimming lights, by coming through the one door of the set, with a large, grey wall, casement windows and a strip of bare lighting fixtures that suggest some sort of industrial building. Dressed in a worn, wrinkly suit and scuffed shoes, he's come with a suitcase full of evidence, mostly scraps of paper, each of which he's dutifully tagged and assigned a number.
While an element of tragedy is certainly at the core of "Underneath the Lintel," playwright Glen Berger tempers his play with playfully eccentric humor. Schiff is a master of dry wit and, like his "West Wing" character, the Librarian has a cynical streak that leaks wry commentary on bureaucrats, foreign cultures and, for some inexplicable reason, a growing fascination with the musical "Les Miserables."

But the Librarian also charms you with his mild manner and childlike glee whenever he says something he thinks is funny.

He also chokes himself up on occasion when his quest leads him to recollections of past regrets, including the girl that got away.

"How was I supposed to know she was the one and only?" he said, then stalls another tangent by saying, "but we must proceed."

And proceed he does, although the ending may not be entirely satisfying to him, or his audience. There's little in the way of closure in "Underneath the Lintel," but there is hope.

If you think you need more details of the story than you're getting here, you're probably just a few Googles away from more than you need to know. But all you really need to know is that a terrific actor has a hold on a terrific character at a theater where you can share the experience in an intimate setting."
Excerpts from Upstage Magazine Interview:
"Have you ever done a one-man play before?
No. I’ve read once years ago when I first started dealing with this acting thing that an actor alone on stage giving a monologue is the stress level of a test pilot during takeoff and landing. Then I ran into a fighter pilot who happens to be an actor now who was working with us on The West Wing in D.C. one day. He was an Air Force guy and we started talking about acting and I told him about that study and he said, “Oh my God, I believe it! I’ve been in dog fights and I’ve never been more terrified than the moment I was in front of the camera.” So I don’t know how true that is, but there’s something like jumping out of an airplane about it that is interesting. You ask yourself how would you feel if you walked away from that challenge.
I’ve got to say that fans of Toby Ziegler and The West Wing probably won’t be surprised to find you in a play about a character on a life-changing quest. It seems like something he might have done himself. Are you going to miss that show or do you think it was just time for you to move on?
It’s been time for me to move on for quite a while actually. You know, the money was very good and that’s what kind of drew me back because I felt like after five years of 70-hour weeks that I kind of deserved to get a little bit of a payoff. And the money got very good in the last two years. I wanted to leave and then we kind of made a compromise that I would come back and give them a story that they could use to lead me going out. They came up with firing him... That wasn’t my idea!

Did you like the way they resolved Toby’s character?
Between you and me - and you can print this - Toby wouldn’t have done that in ten million years! But, you know, it’s not my show.

I think the entire cast of The West Wing has been exceptional from the first season on.
And now it’s even greatly sad because of John Spencer’s passing. I certainly, honestly, don’t want to go back for another season without Johnny there. I couldn’t imagine The West Wing without Toby Ziegler and I couldn’t imagine it without Leo McGarrity as well. It’s just not possible. So, it might move on and become another show and that’s fine.

It’s important for people to know that I really, really loved this Toby character. And I really loved the people on The West Wing. Allison Janney is my soulmate on the set and John Spencer was just one of the most fascinating, wonderful human beings I’ve ever met. And Martin Sheen is singularly the best human being I’ve ever met. Tommy Schlamme who used to run the show and Aaron Sorkin and his writing and some of the writers who tried to fill his footsteps are truly wonderfully gifted and they’re family and I love them to death. I just feel like it’s time to get out of the kitchen once in a while. It’s time to move on.

You’ve done films, plays and now a long running television series, where do you see your career going next?
Honestly it kind of depends on how this goes. If I hate this I may not come back to the stage yet again. I’ve done two movies in the last four months in Vancouver. It all depends on what opens up. I don’t think I’ll say, “I want to be a stage actor, I want to do Broadway.” I have people in London looking for plays for me there and I might decide to go to the West End. Or I might try to become a good golfer. It all depends..."

Review from Variety (inludes small picture of Richard Schiff in the play):
"Glen Berger's persuasive single-hander "Underneath the Lintel" follows the odyssey of an obsessive Dutch librarian whose curiosity begins with the return in an overnight book drop of a tattered volume that appears to be a mere 131 years overdue. The book is an edition of a Baedeker Travel Guide in "deplorable condition," containing a bookmark that turns out to be an unredeemed 73-year-old Chinese laundry claim check. The clues surface and mount, tease and taunt, and what might appear to be little more than a dull literary exploration becomes a dark and complex mystery that transcends the ages.

The bookish clerk (Richard Schiff) journeys to London to the still existing laundry to find a rumpled pair of striped trousers, containing a faded train ticket dated 1912. The librarian's pilgrimage takes him from Bonn to Beijing and Manhattan, with side trips to Germany, Greece and France. Despite the fact that he has lost both his job and pension, and is occasionally diverted by red herrings that discourage his relentless pursuit, the determined amateur sleuth trudges on into the depths of Biblical lore.

Convinced that the legend of the Wandering Jew -- a cobbler who denied Jesus Christ a cup of water and was condemned to roam the earth until the second coming -- was nothing more than a myth, the librarian's search often appears as futile as the search for the existence of the elusive traveler, Kilroy, referred to in the play.

As the tweedy unnamed librarian,"The West Wing" regular Schiff pilots the spiritual time machine with scholarly authority and generous doses of devilish, wry humor. The thesp becomes an elfin tour guide who manages to invest his global trot with a mesmerizing sense of awe and wonder.

Director Maria Mileaf has skillfully drawn the viewer into the global mystery with spare staging that focuses attention on the narrative's compelling twists and turns.

The cold, barren set of an empty stage is furnished with a plain table, a chair and a chalkboard. Occasionally, slide projections offer a sense of time and place, from a marquee on Charing Cross Road to the Great Wall of China or the Trylon and Perisphere at Flushing Meadow that was the centerpiece of the 1939 World's Fair. The visuals complement a compelling journey."

Review from Home News Tribune:
"The one-character play is a risk for everyone involved, from the playwright to the box-office manager.

The risk paid off for Glen Berger when he wrote "Underneath the Lintel," a play that had 400 performances off-Broadway.

And it should continue to pay off for the box office at the George Street Playhouse, where Berger's work is being presented with Richard Schiff giving a spellbinding performance in the only role.

Schiff — well known for his portrayal of Toby Ziegler in television's "The West Wing" — is cast here as a Dutch librarian whose nearly anonymous job consists of handling the books returned through the overnight slot.

Having long ago lost the one person who might have given him intimacy, he is content, on the surface at least, to pursue his drab vocation and weather the internal politics of the library, never leaving the Netherlands, rarely leaving his home city.

All that changes when he finds that a book dropped through the slot has been overdue for 113 years. He mails the obligatory notice of a fine — to a post office box in China — but the desire to know who checked out that book and who returned it after so many years begins to consume him.

As it does, he uses his vacation time, his sick time, and time he doesn't have coming to him to travel around the globe following one obscure clue after another: an unredeemed laundry slip, an unused ticket for a German tram, an unopened love letter, and other seemingly meaningless scraps of information.

Then something about these bits of evidence clicks in his head and leads him to suspect that the culprit is someone he otherwise would have bet was only a myth.

The play takes place in a forlorn auditorium the librarian has rented in order to tell his story — gratis — to anyone who will listen.

He illustrates his presentation with slides, with notations and drawings on a chalk board, and with the pieces of evidence that he produces one by one from a woebegone suitcase.

If at first it seems that the librarian is simply a madman obsessed with a pointless quest, Schiff's performance of Berger's script soon dispels so easy an explanation of what's going on here.

The librarian is as complex as any human being, and as Schiff holds our attention with the unfolding mystery, he also gives us hints at how the man came to be who he is and how he has been altered by the implications of his inquiry.

In this script, Berger touches on profound, even chilling, questions about the significance of individual lives within the enormous sweep of history, about the subjection of human will to divine will, about the lingering weight of regret, about a need shared by human beings to leave behind some sign that we were here — questions that might not have troubled the librarian if someone had not dropped that copy of Baedeker's Travel Guide into the slot.

Schiff is utterly credible as the shaken man simultaneously dealing with these thoughts and with the heavy impact his odyssey has had on his life. Timidity, anger, passion, sarcasm, humor — all emerge in a performance so disciplined that the character and his unlikely tale become real.

Directed with great care by Maria Mileaf, a former George Street apprentice, "Under the Lintel" is the kind of provocative theatrical experience that echoes well after the play has ended."

Review from the Trenton Times:
"A major part of the joy, the fun of Glen Berger's one-man show "Underneath the Lintel" is the journey of which the audience is asked to accompany a Dutch librarian whose life is changed with the return of a Baedeker's Travel Guide book that is 113 years overdue.

That journey is made all the more pleasant by the excellent production this unique theater piece receives at George Street Playhouse and the engaging performance of Richard Schiff who's probably best known to audiences for his television work on "The West Wing."

Into a rather seedy auditorium shuffles a nondescript man carrying a small suitcase. In it, he says, there are "scraps to prove one life and to justify another." Those scraps are the clues in a mystery that takes this otherwise sedentary librarian to England, Germany, China, America and Australia. Before this whirlwind tour, he had traveled only to Gouda to see how they made the cheese, but "it was closed."

Through his scraps, this purposely unnamed and unknown man shows the audience how he became part of a myth. The matter of the myth must remain a mystery as part of the enjoyment to be had in seeing if one can figure out who The Librarian is following before he divulges it.

The quest of The Librarian is easily recognizable. In fact, he tells us who he is following at the point in his narrative when he himself figures it out. The difficulty is that it's never explained why his life has been changed and what the correlations between The Librarian and his quarry really are.

In one respect, it might appear that The Librarian is going through the throes of a midlife crisis and is subconsciously using this as an excuse to energize his formerly uneventful life. After all, his main job at the library is to sort through books deposited overnight to see if they are overdue. Another thought might be that Berger is insinuating that this mythical character isn't really one character, but a series of individuals from around the world throughout numerous generations who have been engulfed by the myth just as The Librarian has.

Unlike other countries, the United States does not have the same give and take regarding television, film and stage actors. In England, for instance, it's not uncommon to hear an actor in a BBC radio dramatization before seeing him on stage or passing a movie poster for his latest film along the way, so it's wonderful to see someone with the presence and polish of Schiff in the intimate George Street surroundings.

Schiff is engaging and fills this enigmatic role with wonderfully varied nuances and honest emotion. The 80-minute one-act moves at a pleasant pace due to Maria Mileaf's excellent direction, but it is to Schiff's credit that the action doesn't sag and The Librarian's character is a beautifully rounded and developed personality. The result is that the evening is simply a joy from beginning to end.

With Schiff's charming performance and wonderful lighting and scenic design by David Lander and Neil Patel, "Underneath the Lintel" is an engaging and challenging journey, an almost "magical mystery tour" that's sure to delight. Now, if audience members would only remember to turn off their cell phones when they enter the theater . . ."

Review from the Newark Star Ledger:
"Once again, a New Jersey theater is offering a production that's better than the one that played off-Broadway.

This time it's the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick where the superior work is being done. Glen Berger's 2001 play, "Underneath the Lintel," works far more wonderfully here than it did in downtown Manhattan.

Though the show ran 14 months in its Greenwich Village home, it might still be there if this production had opened in New York.

Granted, George Street has an actor in this one-man drama who's more famous than the original off-Broadway performer and his subsequent replacement. Here we have Richard Schiff, who got entrance applause from those "West Wing" fans who have savored him as Toby Ziegler, the harried director of communications, on that NBC hit.

Schiff is terrific as the unnamed Dutch "Librarian" who gets in Dutch with his bosses when he asks to go on a quest. He's determined to find the borrower who surreptitiously returned a book in the overnight slot -- 113 years overdue. When The Librarian's superiors refuse to fund his expedition, he takes off on his own.

This is the first time The Librarian has ventured outside of Holland. He's led an uninteresting existence, and has measured his life, if not in coffee spoons, than in date-stampers. The play requires an actor who has sad eyes that are underlined with bags the size of jumbo shrimp. Schiff has those, as well as a brow which is so furrowed that crops could be planted in it, not to mention a bald pate that seems to substantiate that one loses his hair from worry.

While Schiff looks ideal for this bureaucrat, his authentic sounding foreign accent completes the illusion. His delivery deliberately underplays the script's inherent humor, which makes his offhand remarks all the more droll. This Librarian doesn't know how funny he really is.

But there are times The Librarian is consumed with religious fervor, and Schiff admirably captures that. His expedition doesn't turn out to be a mere wild goose chase, but a crusade where faith becomes an important component. The Librarian begins to realize the worth of the common man, and Schiff makes this sequence a beautiful moment.

"Underneath the Lintel" alternates between the whimsical and the tender, so a director's strong hand is needed to guide from one mood to the next. What luck for the play that newcomer Maria Mileaf knows how to drive this vehicle. There are times when the play threatens to wander off track, but she and Schiff are there to make sure those longueurs are not very long.

These aren't the only reasons why experiencing this play at George Street is a more satisfying experience. The off-Broadway edition offered only a semblance of set. Here, Neil Patel has provided a dramatic warehouse wall on which are shown potent slide projections.

The New York theater where "Underneath the Lintel" was ensconced is as long and narrow as a shooting gallery. Though this is a one-person show, it needs space to breathe, and the wide George Street stage provides that.

And, to be frank, the off-Broadway playhouse was a sty with terribly cramped seats and woeful sightlines. Compare that to George Street's stadium seating, commodious chairs and generous legroom. Even if theatergoers had to take a bridge or tunnel to get to New Brunswick, they'd be urged to get here."

Posted by Glowegal at Television Without Pity:
"Went to see Richard Schiff in 'Underneath the Lintel' in New Brunswick, New Jersey yesterday with friends. While I think that John would've loved Richard Schiff's performance, he would've been humbled by his 5-word bio in the Playbill:
"For my friend, John Spencer."

From the Newark Star Ledger:
"When Schiff talks about his big break -- Steven Spielberg casting him in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997) -- there's a look of disgust. "The thing was a dinosaur movie. Steven's capable of doing incredible work, so I wished it were 'Schindler's List' or 'Munich.'"
"It's a play about someone who ostensibly was asleep, and now goes around the world in a journey of discovery to find faith in his life and the meaning of his life," Schiff says. "It's a heroic quest from someone very unassuming, quiet. Someone whom most of us wouldn't notice on the bus. He's small in the big picture, but becomes larger when taking this obsessive-compulsive journey. That's the case with any real hero who's looking for the golden fleece or the golden goose. It's very touching and personal to me."

Schiff, 50, has been on an odyssey or two himself. He was born in Bethesda, Md., and soon after his family migrated to New York. "That set the tone for the circuitous route I've taken," Schiff says. "I dropped out of (City College of New York), took a break, moved to Colorado, chopped wood, hauled it to a truck, led a hippie life, and got $10 a day. I was following the path of what was interesting to me."

That included acting, which Schiff studied when he returned to CCNY, although it didn't bring him happiness. He would spend the entire day before a performance dreading the night to come. "It took me eight hours to warm up," he says. "Then I realized you have to pursue what you most fear. Most people who are afraid of heights should just jump out of an airplane."

At 33, Schiff began studying with William Esper, now director of the acting program at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Meanwhile, Schiff turned his energies to directing off-off Broadway.

"I was planning an 'Antigone' and couldn't find the right woman for the role. A photographer I knew from Colorado was obsessed with one woman, had pictures of her all over his studio. He said, 'You gotta meet her and audition her.' I called her in, and she was beautiful. She claims I came onto her, which might have been true," Schiff says with a shrug.

Schiff gave the role to the then-unknown Angela Bassett. But 13 years later, Schiff did marry the photographer's choice. He and Sheila Kelly live in Los Angeles with their two children.

Although Toby Ziegler was fired this season, Schiff says he'll still be appearing on "The West Wing."

"This gig in New Jersey is a quick pop," Schiff says. "I don't want to be away from family. I just know that acting on stage gets you back to basics, so I had my manager put it out there that I've wanted to do some theater. I've spent seven years as Toby -- a character I understood after the pilot. Now it's great to meet someone new."

In the Princeton Packet, there is an interview with with the director of the play, which includes a photo of her together with Richard Schiff.

From the Daily Record:
"Richard Schiff hasn't yet turned in his "West Wing" credentials, but his character, White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler, has already been shown the door. And the Emmy-winning actor isn't wasting any time looking for new challenges.

He's found a big one at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, where he'll star in "Underneath the Lintel,"which opens Tuesday.

Like the thrill seeker who conquers a fear of death by standing in harm's way, Schiff, who has yet to conquer his fear of acting, is facing it head-on by starring in this one-man drama.

With only 12 days of rehearsal.

Three of which he lost to strep throat.

During a phone interview conducted just before Christmas from a Manhattan rehearsal studio, Schiff was also suffering from the holiday blues and the loss of a dear friend.

"I'd much rather have been with my family at Christmas,"he said. "And I'd certainly much rather be back in L.A. this past week, when John Spencer (who played Leo McGarry on 'The West Wing'and died Dec. 18) passed. They (the 'West Wing' cast) all gathered at John's house for his birthday last night, and all I wanted to do was be there."

To accommodate his schedule, rehearsals for the play have taken place in both New York and Los Angeles.

"The schedule we chose is insane," he said. "I'd be ready to show it to people around March, even though it closes in February."

But after a long search for the right project, Schiff found something in Glen Berger's drama that demanded his interest. He plays a Danish librarian who, after finding a book that was overdue for 113 years, embarks on a life-changing journey, with mystical and spiritual implications.

Underneath the Lintel"slipped by many theater fans after its ill-timed premiere in New York in September 2001, so this revival in New Brunswick, with Schiff's high profile on board, is sure to attract a great deal of attention.

"In the most simple terms it's a journey, a heroic journey by an unlikely hero," he said. "Some people quest after the Holy Grail, others after a Super Bowl ring. This guy's quest is a little more personal and a little more mysterious."

For Schiff, it's a return of sorts to his stage roots, which he doesn't recall with fond nostalgia.

"I hated being on stage," he said. "I got a job on my first audition, got paid $35 a night for a play in Brooklyn called 'Blues for Charlie.' I hated it. I had to warm up for an 8 o'clock performance starting at noon."
As the seventh season focuses on the race for a new president, the former hit show's red-ink ratings don't bode well for the new administration. Either way, Toby is a goner.

"I think the Toby story (he was fired and faces indictment for leaking classified information) pretty much ended when he was booted out of the White House," Schiff said.

"I've been wanting to leave for a while. I love it. I love everyone on it. At times I think it was the best show on television. But it's different now, and it's been different for a few years. I'm sure whoever owns it might want to make some more money on it or, out of pride, see where it goes with a new administration. But it's not my 'West Wing,' so I don't have any interest in it. I don't want to do it without John Spencer."

And what's in store for Toby before the final curtain call?

"You mean to hang him in jail or something?" he joked. "I think what they've already done is that Josh and Toby's connection can't die. They find a way to communicate, even though it's not cool to be talking to a felon."

So it seems Schiff will avoid federal prison, although starring in a one-man show is no day at the beach.

"The idea of being alone on stage for however many minutes is not a fun idea to me," he said. "I don't know if it's going to be brilliant or what, but you want to do in your career what fascinates you, what puts you on that rail."

Details from
""West Wing" actor Richard Schiff stars in "Underneath the Lintel" at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Ave, New Brunswick, through Jan. 31. 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, with additional performance 2 p.m. Jan. 19. $28 to $58. (732) 246-7717,"

"Richard Schiff, who stars as Toby Ziegler in the hit NBC drama The West Wing will star in Glen Berger's Underneath the Lintel at New Brunswick's George Street Playhouse, January 10-February 5. The production will be directed by Maria Mileaf.

The solo play, which premiered Off-Broadway in 2001, focuses on a Danish librarian who finds a 113-year-old overdue book and goes on a search to find the culprit. As one clue builds on another, he ends up on a journey around the world that changes his life.

Schiff appeared Off-Broadway in The Exonerated. His film credits including Living Out Loud, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Ray. Mileaf's Off-Broadway credits include Going to St. Ives, The Argument, and Lobster Alice. "

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