review by Janet I. Martineau
A boorish macho husband, a pair of plunging panties, two (and maybe three) room renters with ulterior motives, and the wild and crazy Steve Martin combine to make audiences giggle like school children at Saginaw’s Pit and Balcony Community Theatre.
And mostly it’s all in the mind with double entendres galore.
We’re talking about “The Underpants,” which opened this past weekend and runs next weekend as well. It’s based on a German farce/satire written in 1910, “Die Hose” by Carl Sternheim -- with a 2004 adaptation by Martin.
Would love to compare the two scripts -- the 1910 one and the 2004 one -- because this one sounds like all Martin. Comedy light but a little bit naughty too. Clever word play (like a nitwit character “not having a nit to knit wit”). No lasting substance and sometimes a tad plodding. Politically incorrect. But good for a few giggles during these winter months,
Basically the storyline is as follows: A super uptight, macho, wife-belittling German bureaucrat has his own underwear in a bunch because when he and his frau attended a parade for the king her panties suddenly fell to her ankles for all around her to see.
He is sure his job will be threatened by this should word spread; she assures him she had them back up before anybody saw anything; but when some men seek to rent an advertised room in their house, it is clear she was not as quick as she thought.
One is a poet, who will interrupt any rising passion to run off to his room and turn it into a poem. Another is a sickly Jewish barber seeking to hide his ancestry from the militant macho husband by spelling his name Cohen with a K and kosher with a C.
Enter a busybody female neighbor who urges the wife to engage in an affair with one of them since her husband is such a brute.
And that’s about as far as we should go with this description since there are a few twists and turns that are delightful.
Robin Devereaux-Nelson directs with Alex Alexandrou as the husband, Mary Lee as the wife, Michael Curtis as the poet, Jay Glysz as the Jewish barber, Liz Williams as the busybody and Paul Lutenske as a mysterious (and late to the action) man also seeking to rent a room.
Sunday’s performance needed more energy, especially given the fact this is a FARCE, and a more connectedness, engagement between the actors. They do not meld yet like a well-oiled machine. Oddly, too, three of them do not play their roles quite broadly enough given their stereotypical characters; it’s a matter of needed inflections, shadings. detail.
Collectively their timing is good, with lines as well as entrances and exits. But not razor sharp.
That said, the performances of Curtis and Lutenske sparkled, with Williams a close third. Curtis’ poet is a silky smooth sensual character, just delightful with all the right moves. His voice also so totally captures the character. And Lutenske’s way with body English and expressions are hilarious, and then he open his mouth and plops down a line perfectly.
Bravo to the detailed set and its design, by Gary Reid, Suzie Reid and Mary Swift. It looks very real and livable and 1910ish.