The first thing you notice about this show is the elaborate multi-level set, jammed with leather-bound books. Because this story unfolds in an opulent library, stuffed with rare old volumes. And because this play is a parable rather than a realistic drama, the library is located on a beautiful mountaintop – a destination that only the most dedicated visitors reach.
The story begins when a business-like scholar comes to the main desk.
bell: ding ding ding ding
Cleo: May I help you?
Frances: It is 10:02. Rare Collections opens at 10 a.m. on the dot. The nice lady in front assured me that Rare Collections opened at exactly 10 a.m. She seemed quite knowledgeable and here it is, 10:01.
Frances: Is there something I can help you with…
The nervous scholar has traveled from afar to read one particularly rare book… the library owns the only copy. Her stressed-out city attitude begins to relax as the library’s magical atmosphere takes over.
Frances: It is unexpected, though, isn’t it? To find this majestic library on top of a mountain? It’s like a temple, and this is my pilgrimage.
Cleo: It’s a long way up the mountain. A lot of people take one look at it and don’t even try.
Frances: It is remarkable that in all my travels, this is the first time I’ve ever visited.
Naturally, there are complications. The scholar wants to read the book she seeks together with her estranged daughter, with whom she is trying to rebuild a relationship. And the librarian, who is attractive but emotionally repressed, has personal issues to resolve as well, which gradually come into focus during the second act.
This being a gentle fable, the conflicts between characters get fixed without a fistfight. And when we reach the final scene, the problems that have preoccupied the characters suddenly resolve, as if the playwright had waved a magic wand, bringing happiness within reach. It’s a plot device that Shakespeare used in his late Romances, and the trick still works in this sweet little modern parable.
“Provenance” continues at the B Street Theatre in Sacramento through July 26.