Wild and crazy still lives

We saw The Underpants at Lesher Center last night.  I liked it.

That may be the shortest review in history, but it’s probably sufficient.  Steve Martin adapted this play from a 1911 play of the same name by one Carl Sternheim.  Originally, it was a comedy of manners, part of a 4 part series(quadralogy? One more than a trilogy?) Sternheim wrote about the burgeoning middle class under Kaiser Willhelm.

We aren’t much interested in the petty problems of the German middle class of 100 years ago, so Martin has turned this play into a pure comedy. It seemed to me more a series of related sketches than anything else–two or three characters would have a few minutes onstage to work out a theme, then someone would leave while another entered and there would be another skit.

The premise is that a woman, Louise, [Lyndsy Kall]is watching the King pass by and her underpants fall off.  She is wearing a long skirt, and rapidly scoops them up and under her shawl, but this is still scandalous in prim and prissy 1911 Berlin.  Her husband, a civil servant, is terrified that his job, and their social standing, will be destroyed.

To supplement their income and allow them to start a family, they want to let out a room.  Two prospective tenants turn out to be interested because they have witnessed the underpants incident and are infatuated with Louise.  One is a poet, full of pretty words who is more interested in the word than in bedding Louise. The other a barber, apparently channeling Woody Allen while pretending not to be Jewish to the sanctimonious husband Theo [Keith Pinto].

I thought the star of the show was the libidinous neighbor, Gertrude [Jamie Jones].  Unabashedly nosy, irreverent, iconoclastic and out for a good time, she is the antithesis of the morally constipated Theo.

“There are no small roles, only small actors” would apply to Evan Boomer, one of the two non-Equity actors in the show, who portrays Klinglehoff, a third potential tenant.  He wanders through the play twice before he has a line, but is so utterly outré you can’t take your eyes off of him.

My least favorite performance was provided by John Lewis, as the King. (and why do they call him the King rather than the Kaiser?  Does Steve Martin think the audience is too poorly educated to know about Kaiser Bill?  Is he right?)  The King is dressed in a comic opera uniform, with a plastic mustache and the accent of a Kansas CPA.  Even in a comedy this was an unconvincing acting turn which completely broke my mood regarding the play.

The one act, 90 minute, no intermission play speeds along, with just one slow spot about an hour in.  For some unnamed reason, perhaps the lack of an intermission, you are allowed to bring your drinks inside theater to sip during the performance.  Many theaters are doing this now, and I haven’t seen any problems because of it–I hope they are making more money this way.  There was also ice cream on sale before the show, reminiscent of the theater in London.

The reviewers in the New Yorker always talk about the themes of the play and their moral import, the philosophy involved and how your life and thinking will be affected by the great opus under discussion.  There is none of that here–you go to this play to laugh and then go home.  Laughter is good enough for me, and we’re back where we started—-I liked it.


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