Men are silly. Then again, so are women. And we all become equally silly when we let our desires run away with us. And it’s especially fun when otherwise straight-laced, upstanding citizens toss their hang-ups aside as they get carried away.
The Underpants, Steve Martin’s adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s Die Hose – directed for Alumnae Theatre by Ginette Mohr, assisted by Caitlin English – reveals how the accidental shedding of a lady’s underpants in public throws a group of upright middle-class folks for a loop, with decidedly hilarious and sexy results.
It all starts out with sound designer and live piano accompanist Aaron Corbett entering, dressed in black pants and white shirt. He stops down centre and bows with a click of his barefoot heels, bringing the audience to attention. We are in 1910 Germany, in the home of Theo and Louise Maske.
The Maskes’ ordinary middle-class life is thrown into turmoil when, while watching a royal procession, Louise’s (Carolyn Hall) underpants fall down – a moment that gets noticed despite her quick and discreet retrieval. News of the event spreads, resulting in instant – and titillating – celebrity status for Louise. All much to the chagrin of her extremely conservative civil servant husband (Andrew Anthony). We also learn that Louise wants a baby, but Theo hasn’t touched her since their wedding night nearly a year ago. Boorish and uber-masculine, Theo is more of an arrogant, bigoted bully than the sweet-talking romantic Louise longs for.
Enter Versati (Scott Farley), a handsome young poet with a flair for the dramatic, who arrives at the house to inquire about a room for rent. Things get complicated when Louise accepts Versati’s application, only to learn that Theo has entered into an agreement with the hypochondriac barber Cohen (Michael Gordin Shore). Both prospective tenants are accepted – to share the room – and it turns out that both witnessed the “event” at the parade. And both are madly in love with Louise as a result.
Adding to the fun is the Maskes’ nosey upstairs neighbour Gertrude (Chantale Groulx), a woman of a certain age who longs to live vicariously through a young woman’s romantic life and who appoints herself Louise’s naughty fairy godmother in a plot to launch Louise into an affair with Versati. Then add to the mix a third tenant prospect, the elderly and stern Klinglehoff (Jacqueline Costa, doing triple duty – she’s also the set and lighting designer), and a surprise visit by the King (Farley) – and we have even more laugh-out-loud good times.
And, since this is a farce, plots and plans go awry – all in the most hysterical way, with loads of innuendo, physical comedy and a bit of potty humour. This fast-moving comedy does an excellent job of pointing and laughing at the foibles and hang-ups of the bourgeois majority – from their uptight and chauvinistic views on sex, tight-fisted ways with money and mistrust of minorities, to how easily people’s longings and desires can be played upon by the right person under the right circumstances. In the end, every character learns something about herself/himself, especially Louise, who grows into a self-possessed woman.
The Underpants features an excellent and highly entertaining cast. Hall is lovely as the adorable Louise, a loyal but neglected housewife with a progressive mind and searing urges, longing to be loved and romanced. Anthony does a nice job with man’s man Theo, who under all the machismo is a man who wants to live a proper, quiet life and provide for his wife so they can eventually afford a baby. Groulx is deliciously sly and lascivious as Gertrude, an older woman who is forced to acknowledge her own desires as she finds herself considering a younger man. Farley is part poet, part Casanova and part acrobat as Versati, a man who also longs for romance, and does a delightfully goofy turn as the King. Shore’s Cohen reveals a sweet, protective and lonely mensch beneath the hypochondriac; you just want to buy him a coffee and give him a hug. And Costa is a treat as Klinglehoff – the most uptight of the lot and quick to judge, but easily swayed – a young female actor masterfully carrying off the physical and mental postures of an extremely proper and severe old man. (Scroll down to the Alumnae blog post I reposted recently to see how Costa came to play Klinglehoff.)
With shouts to producer Jennifer McKinley, SM Karen Elizabeth McMichael, costume designer Sarah Joy Bennet and props mistress Bec Brownstone. And thanks to Alumnae Theatre for a lovely opening night reception, which included a lovely spread by member Sandy Schneider.
The Underpants runs on the Alumnae Theatre mainstage until October 5, with a talkback Q&A with the cast and creative team after the September 29 matinée.
So. What are you wearing? 😉