Through April 1
THE UNDERPANTS American Repertory Theatre of WNY/330 Amherst St.
“The Underpants” is an interesting mix of late German Empire writing and Hollywood writing, with Steve Martin reworking Carl Sternheim’s “Die Hose.”
It’s set in 1910 in Dusseldorf, in the home of an officious government clerk, Theobald Maske (David C. Mitchell) and his wife Louise Maske (Candice Kogut), downstairs from Gertrude Deuter (Pamela Rose Mangus), who wants to help Louise get out more.
The couple wants to rent out a bedroom because his salary isn’t what he would want it to be, despite him being a superstar clerk (in his opinion).
That’s where the humor comes in, the quest to rent that room.
The emperor was just in town as the play opens and Louise lost her panties during the celebration of his appearance and everyone in town and the emperor seem to have noticed.
That attracts Frank Versati (Ben Caldwell) and Benjamin Cohen (Rich Kraemer), both of whom want to rent the room and get much, much closer to the wife.
Of course, that requires Cohen to say his name really is Kohen and he isn’t Jewish, a relief to Theobald Maske.
Anti-semitism in Germany didn’t start in 1933.
Jeffrey Coyle’s direction is a little up and down, with Mitchell and Kraemer getting a little too much into their characters and way, way overdoing it.
Still, it’s a very humorous show, as Louise considers a fling with one of the new tenants, advised by Gertrude as to how to carry it off as Theobald is at work.
I would have to remember a lot of my now-forgotten German to read Sternheim’s play but it probably is slightly less direct about affairs than the stage of today allows.
1910 was a time of stiff rules and enforced social customs and quiet work-arounds, to bypass those rules for sanity.
That’s probably the reason for the King and Klinglehoff (Michael Starzynski) in the final sequences of the show, reality against the rules.
This is a frequently funny show, although it’s written more to draw the humor from the story than a laugh-out-loud tale.
“The Underpants” is worth seeing, to see a really clever writer tell a story, often told in the details rather than some elaborate plot sequence.
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