Here’s The Underpants in a nutshell: During the King’s parade, Frau Louise accidentally drops her underpants. Before she’ss able to scoop them up under her shawl, she has captured the hearts and imagination of more than one spectating man.
The Underpants is an adaptation of early 20th-century German playwright Carl Sternheim’s farce, Die Hose. Because of the suggestive nature of the play, the original 1911 production was banned in Germany. In 2002, Steve Martin was asked to adapt the piece for Classic Theater in New York City. Martin worked to make his adaptation relevant to modern audiences, focusing on the roles of men and women, the balance of power in a marriage, and the thrill of attention.
The play opens in Frau Louise and Herr Theo’s flat. Having just heard of Louise’s underpants incident, Theo (George Younts) has come home from work and is mortified — not for Louise (Vanessa Moyen), but for himself. As a government clerk, one of his career strategies is to avoid any attention. Theo imagines all sorts of repercussions for being known as a man with a coquettish wife, losing his job, their apartment, starving in the streets. Louise, on the other hand, is unfazed. What neither Theo nor Louise are able to predict is the onslaught of renters that would come out of the incident. Though they have had a room advertised for rent for weeks, suddenly they have two renters willing to pay any price and even share the room for the chance to live under the same roof as that enchanting exhibitionist Frau Louise.
Director Marybeth Clark’s cast is fast and funny. From suddenly opening doors, to heaving breasts, to characters nearly getting caught in compromising positions, the actors play out this farce in a very entertaining way. Vanessa Moyen plays Louise with a wide-eyed femininity, seemingly unaware of the allure of her form and yet riveted by the attention she receives. Andrea McGinn as her bawdy confidant Gertrude lends a familiar Lucy and Ethel dynamic to the show. Louise’s suitors were both over-the-top—Kyle Barnette’s flamboyant portrayal of poet (and renter number one) Frank Versati got a lot of laughs, while Jesse Siak’s complaints and philosophical musings as renter number two, Benjamin Cohen, came straight from Woody Allen’s playbook. The comedy of George Yount’s character Theo was his cluelessness of all that was happening right under his nose.
Set in a caricature of 1911 Germany, the period is comically reflected in the choices made by costumer Janine Marie McCabe. All suspenders, peasant dresses, and buckled shoes, the cast looks like they walked out of a Grimm’s fairy tale. The play takes place entirely in the living room of Theo and Louise’s apartment, a cozy set with a period kitchen and a chaise lounge for falling upon dramatically. The lighting followed Louise with a melodramatic flair as she considered her new-found desirability.
The Underpants is a fun, over-the-top comedy and Charleston Stage’s production had the audience laughing along with it the whole time. From the ribald dialogue to the physical comedy, this show will give anyone a good time.