THE UNDERPANTS: Comedy by Steve Martin. Adapted from the1910 German farce Die Hose by Carl Sternheim. Directed by Michael Butler. Center REPertory Company, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA . 925-295-1413 or www.centerrep.org. October 23 – November 17, 2012
THE UNDERPANTS a raucous/ribald/romp at Center Rep.
The Center Rep’s production of The Underpants that is Steve Martin’s adaptation of the 1910 German Farce Die Hose is by far the most original staging of the four that this reviewer has seen. This includes the two directed by the highly regarded Jon Jory at San Jose Rep and seasoned Robert Currier at Ross Valley Players. But leave it to Artistic Director Michael Butler to put his personal stamp on the show and in doing so grabs the brass ring for ingenuity and it is hilarious. The three “R”s of ‘Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic are perverted in this production to a Raucous, Ribald, Romp that now includes Riotous.
The words in The Underpants belong to the multitalented Steve Martin via the German expressionist play by Carl Sternheim. The core of Expressionism emphasized that the basic primal instinct is sex and the uninhibited sexuality of Bohemian lifestyle was de rigueur. Women are the polar opposite of men whose only purpose is to nurture the men. Maybe so in 1910 but this is the 21st century and things have been turned topsy-turvy especially on the stage at Center Rep. That being so, we can give this version of the play (thanks to director Butler) a PG-13 rating and four stars for being vastly entertaining with a modicum of social didactics thrown in.
Consider the improbability of it all. Theo (Keith Pinto) and Louise (Lyndsy Kail) Maske are a respectable, cash strapped German couple. To balance the budget and earn enough money to afford a baby, have placed a “Room for Rent” sign in their window without takers. No takers, until Louise has unintentionally (??), dropped and retrieved her underpants while standing in a crowd waiting to see the King appear in a downtown parade. How quickly she retrieved the fateful piece of clothing becomes suspect when a “parade” of would be renters appear.
Frank Verati (Ben Johnson) an unpublished poet arrives complete with black cape, and we later learn dyed hair. The underpants have stimulated his creative juices , among other things (“I want to go to sleep with you. It will only take a minute.”). Gertude (AJ Jamie Jones) the sensual, full-bodied, red-headed neighbor has heard the goings on. Her visceral juices flow thinking about what Versati and Louise could be doing. She does her damnedest to aid Louise in getting the dastardly deed done.
Next to enter is the smitten Cohen (Cassidy Brown), “Jewish?” Theo asks. “No. It’s Cohn. . . with a K.” “OK.” Theo splits the room in two and rents to both, thus setting up the competition between Cohn and Versati to get another look at the underpants . . . or is to get into her underpants? The gentle Cohen becomes Louise’s protector.
Later, but not lastly, Klingehoff (Evan Boomer) a professorial type arrives and adds a bit of humor with his naivety that misses the mark due to the one directorial misstep by Butler. The last arrival will surprise you.
Keith Pinto controls center stage when it his turn to emote. He plays the man of the house with stogy humorous veracity that even makes him likeable. Petite attractive Lyndsy Kail is absolutely charming as she progresses from the put-upon wife, to the woman desirous of an affair and finally the controller of her own destiny with the admonition, [I will do it] “In my own time!” Scene stealer Jamie Jones in her bright red wig exudes repressed sexuality as her pheromones boil over and she overhears that “Water still runs in rusty pipes” when it is her turn to be the object of desire. Ben Johnson plays the egocentric Verati as if he were born to the role. My favorite is Cassidy Brown playing Cohen (with a K) who recognizes vanity and jealously of it all and receives applause when he finally declares to Theo “That’s Cohen with a C!”
Steve Martin will have to step aside since this is Michael Butler’s play. He uses all the six doors on stage, he adds deft directorial touches to his almost slap-stick direction and throws in music, dance and light to this fanciful not to be missed evening. The set is a marvel (Nina Ball) being a huge gilded bird cage populated by distinctive characters dressed in outrageous Victoria Livingston-Hall costumes with wigs to die for by Judy Disbrow. Running time about 90 minutes without intermission.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazne.com