Actor Arye Gross first graced the Geffen Playhouse stage in 2012, when he portrayed the idealized but endearingly real father, Mr. Abramowitz, in the premiere of Donald Margulies’s Coney Island Christmas. The performance was a thrilling experience for Gross, who in his teen years lived in Westwood and claims to have loitered in the Scandinavian furniture store that once occupied what is now the theater’s lobby.
Gross is one of those actors you may not know by name but would certainly recognize. He first appeared in films such as Soul Man and Tequila Sunrise in the 1980s, and played Ellen DeGeneres’s roommate on Ellen,
with later recurring roles in Castle and Six Feet Under.
In the theater world, he’s one of the most familiar and universally admired actors on Los Angeles stages. Audiences know him from South Coast Repertory’s rendition of Our Mother’s Brief Affair,as the articulate but puzzled son; his part as the gently agonized title role in Antaeus Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya; and his turn as the heavy-handed editor in Pasadena Playhouse’s Above the Fold.
Though his list of theater and television credits may be long, Gross performs alone onstage for the first time in his career when he returns to the Geffen this fall in the Playhouse’s production of Glen Berger’s Underneath the Lintel. Berger wrote this solo play, which bears the subtitle An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences, more than 17 years ago. The Actors’ Gang premiered it in 2001, and since then it’s traveled the nation. Now, at long last, director Steven Robman has delivered the script into the hands of the actor who may serve it best.
Gross plays a librarian living in a small town in the Netherlands, who becomes consumed with the story behind a book that’s 113 years overdue and suddenly is returned in the library’s overnight slot. “He cannot just let that go,” says Gross. “He’s got to find out who returned it and who checked it out.” The librarian engages in rhetorical conversation with the audience about his attempts to discover the book’s history and whether to continue onward—though Gross says he hopes the audience doesn’t answer back, which he worries would require him to be clever on his feet.
Though many of us may have difficulty recalling the last time we checked a book out of a library, Gross remembers. He checked it out for this play: a tome about 18th-century English landscape painter Joseph Wright of Derby, whose work factors into the librarian’s historical scavenger hunt.
“The situation that faces the librarian is that, in order to follow the most miraculous thing that’s ever happened in his life, he has to give up everything,” says Gross. “And the evening has to do with his dilemma.” When asked if Gross would be inclined to follow his character’s path, he pauses and says with a smile, “that is the question.”
Underneath the Lintel is at Geffen Playhouse Tue–Sun at various times from Oct 10 through Nov 19 (geffenplayhouse.com). $60–$80.