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CurtainUp The Underpants
By Kathryn Osenlund

I want to sleep with you. It will only take a minute---Versati
The Arden Theatre's Resident Director Aaron Posner has assembled a cast of crackerjack comedic actors for The Underpants, Steve Martin's adaptation of Carl Sternheim's 1911 play, Die Hose. With its emphasis on physical comedy, The Underpantsmay have slightly less of the witty cerebral edge of Martin's other work, but it is a rollicking farce.

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.

The Underpants -- Off-Broadway
The Underpants in LA

The Underpants
Adapted by Steve Martin from Carl Sternheim's play
Directed by Aaron Posner

Cast: Scott Greer, Ericka Kreutz, Jennifer Childs, Jeffrey Coon, Joe Schulz, David Howey
Scenic Design: Kris Stone
Lighting Design: James Leitner
Costume Design: Alison Roberts
Sound Design/ Composer Greg Wilder Running time: Approx 90 minutes with no intermission 09/09/04 - 10/31/04
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 9/23 performance. The Arden's Arcadia Stage.
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