LETTERS TO EDITOR
BOOKS and CDs
CurtainUp The Underpants
By Kathryn Osenlund
Set in Germany in 1910, the adaptation retains a vintage feel. Kris Stone's set features a sharply raked old-time kitchen, a few bedroom doors, and a living room, unadorned except for a large portrait of the Kaiser.
Louise Maske (Ericka Kreutz) is dominated by her husband, the bombastic Theo (Scott Greer), who bears the brunt of the play's satire for his consuming interest in bourgeois respectability. Louise endures Theo's chastisement for the public loss and retrieval of her underpants during a parade in honor of the Kaiser. The inciting incident, not shown, is reprimanded in retrospect. However, this scanty accident propels the action, and its consequences play out until the final scene.
The couple, who are rather strapped for cash on Theo's government clerk's pay, hadn't gotten any traffic from their "Rooms to Let" sign before the embarrassing incident occurred. Afterward they are not at a loss for renters.
There are intimations of Sardou's 1880s comedies in the well-made-play vein, with their tight plotting, secrets and reversals, snappy, contrived entrances and exits, and the finish with a crazy climactic event.
This goofy, fun play comes complete with intrigues, sleeping potion, and an assortment of odd characters: the nosy upstairs neighbor, Gertrude (Jennifer Childs), the sad sack (Joe Schulz) who claims his name is "Cohen with a K", to appease Theo, and the prudish Klinglehoff (David Howey) who appears to suffer from Tourette's Syndrome. The romantic hero, Versati (Jeffrey Coon), the lover, turns out to be something of an anomaly. As events transpire, Louise becomes more daring and resourceful, and things are looking up by the end. Those familiar with Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile should know to expect the unexpected in the denouement.
With its broad-stroke physical comedy, exaggerated reactions and stereotyped costumes The Underpants is reminiscent of a life-size puppet show -- with just one little twist: these lightweight characters seem to have a flip side. Without ascribing undue depth to the play's, ahem, underpinnings, suffice it to say that another persona may lurk under a character's veneer.
A major strength of the production is the way the actors, all top shelf talent, work so seamlessly together. Dramaturg Michele Volansky says this adaptation is not far off the track from the original. Since it was penned for the Classic Stage Company's Re-imagining of the Classics series, Martin had to stay close to the source. But I wonder what other wild and crazy things might have happened had he just cut loose and run with it. Risque in an Old World sort of way, sometimes operating at wiener-joke level, with light touches of slapstick, and a few oblique references to the present day, The Underpants provides the foundation for an engaging evening of theater.
LINKS TO OTHER REVIEWS OF OFF-BROADWAY AND LA PRODUCTIONS
The Underpants -- Off-Broadway
The Underpants in LA
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
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