According to one dictionary, a farce is: “a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations,” and the Theatre in the Park production of The Underpants, originally written in 1911 by Carl Sternheim and adapted in 2002 by Steve Martin, is certainly farcical. The premise — which doesn’t work so well today — is that several otherwise intelligent men would “fall in love” with a woman upon seeing her 1910 “panties”, called bloomers, drop to her ankles as she watches the King’s parade from a balcony.
These bloomers extended almost to the woman’s knees, and were so loose that her legs could not be discerned beneath them. Yet, the men who spy them fall so in love that they vie to rent the spare room that the woman and her ill-paid husband wish to rent out. (In the early 20th Century, conditions such as those kept women virtually caged in their homes. In 1910, German Chancellor Angela Merkel would not have become a minister, Prime or otherwise.)
Louise Maske, the unfortunate lady and housewife in TIP’s presentation of The Underpants, has been married for one very unfulfilling year and is in need of some tingling excitement in her life. Diana Cameron McQueen sparkles with innocent desire as Louise, and shows the maturity that is thrust upon her character as she takes decisions on her own. McQueen’s comedic and physical disciplines are excellent; she is a joy to watch.
The first attempted renter, Frank Versati, a poetic chap, is played by Jonathan King, who creates a striking figure and brings a melodramatic pomposity to this role that fits it nicely. His maneuverings to conceal a natural phenomenon in a potential lover are marvelous, and his aplomb is perfectly Edwardian.
Larry Evans as Benjamin Cohen brings the issue of bigotry into the mix, attempting to cover his character’s Judaism, without introducing a sense of angst into the humor. He too is to be lauded for his physical and acrobatic comedy. The stair-climbing scene is both hilarious and rigorous.
Gertrude Deuter, Louise Maske’s nosy upstairs neighbor, who listens to everything and backs down the fire escape to enter through a window is delightfully brought to us by Sandi Sullivan. Her finely exaggerated emotions and brassy voice make her precisely what the role demands, living vicariously through Louise for some exhilarating thrills.
David Bankert does a commendable job as Theo Maske, the low-level functionary more concerned with rising in the bureaucracy than engaging in his marriage. His Prussian stiffness and rule-bound demeanor hearken well of the German character of the time.
In a cameo role as Klinglehoff, a scientist, with no interest in what lives beneath Louise’s undies, Mark C. Phialas adds the finishing touches to the story with sturdiness and sincerity.
Thomas Mauney has done his accustomed marvelous job of creating the home of the striving middle-class climber Theo Maske, with an expensive rug in the living room, a fainting couch, a wind-up gramophone, a bird in a gilded cage, and a kitchen filled with “new, modern” stuff. And the costumes by Shawn Stewart-Larson fit the characters appropriately and accent the period and the design of the times.
Director Ira David Wood IV has chosen a fine cast, and he keeps them moving and circulating smartly, as they express their characters both physically and emotionally. This show is a barrel of improbable laughs from beginning to end.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 8th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article59144573.html; Feb. 6th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7814; and Feb. 3rd Raleigh, NC Time Warner Cable News Central NC interview with Ira David Wood IV, conducted by Caroline Blair: http://www.twcnews.com/nc/triangle-sandhills/in-depth-interview/2016/02/3/in-depth–the-underpants-on-stage.html.
Theatre in the Park presents THE UNDERPANTS at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 and 13, 3 p.m. Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 and 20, and 3 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $24 ($18 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel), except $16 per ticket for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or http://www.etix.com/.
INFORMATION: 919-831-6936. GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6058 or http://theatreinthepark.com/whatson/group-sales.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/, and https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh, https://twitter.com/TheatreInPark, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_in_the_Park.
DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://theatreinthepark.com/visit/how-to-find-us. MAP: https://maps.google.com/.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair/walker accessible, and large-print playbills are usually available. OTHER LINKS:
Die Hose (The Trousers, also The Underpants) (1911 play and 1927 German silent-movie comedy): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trousers (Wikipedia).
Carl Sternheim (German playwright, 1878-1942): http://www.britannica.com/biography/Carl-Sternheim (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sternheim (Wikipedia).
The Underpants (2002 Off-Broadway comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/7624/underpants-the-martin (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/860 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Underpants (Wikipedia).
The Script: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://actorstheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/UnderpantsStudyGuide.pdf (Actors Theatre of Louisville).
Steve Martin (adapter): http://www.stevemartin.com/ (his official web site), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/6001 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=95761 (Internet Broadway Database), http://imdb.com/name/nm0000188/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Martin (Wikipedia).
Ira David Wood IV (director): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0939505/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/ira.d.wood (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/iradavidwoodiv (Twitter page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.