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Feb. 24, 2005
The improbable in pursuit of the unmentionable
by ELLIN BELTZ
A FEW YEARS AGO, COMIC AND PLAYWRIGHT
Steve Martin adapted a scandalous 1910 German farce as "The
Underpants" for modern audiences, and the Redwood Curtain
Theatre's presentation of the play is well worth seeing.
The original, Carl Sternheim's
"Die Hosen," so threatened authority that it was banned
during the first and second world wars by both monarchists and
Nazis. Prescient playwright Sternheim saw the effects of Victorian
era double-standards, Teutonic anti-Semitism and fear-based decision
making within one family and his prewar society as a whole. Both
Sternheim and Martin weave these themes into an apparently simple
tale of what happens after a young wife's underwear drops in
a public park -- just as the King's carriage passes.
In the paranoid prewar Germany,
everyone was scandalized and wondered if she did it on purpose
as a political statement, a sexual statement or if she just forgot
to tie the strings on her bloomers in the excitement of going
to see the King.
The play opens as the gloomy
and choleric government clerk Theo Maske (Mark Alan Johnston)
berates his wife, Louise, played by the delightful redheaded
comedienne, Rachel Marie Voss. Herr Maske is upset. The scandal
of his wife's dropped bloomers is spreading all over Dusseldorf.
He fears the King will hear of it and he will lose his job and
Meanwhile a series of odd characters
in pursuit of Louise's unmentionables attempt to rent the empty
room in the Maske house. Two agree to split the room; a self-absorbed
and apparently amorous poet, Frank Versati (Gavin Lyall), and
Benjamin Cohen, a Jewish barber who knows Versati's philandering
ways and hopes to save Louise's honor. Cohen is played to perfection
by Steven J. Carter, whose wide-eyed misunderstanding of the
word "barbarian" and other split-second bits belie
his apparently slow and submissive exterior. The third attempted
boarder, Herr Klinglehoff (Jerry Nusbaum), is apparently very
prudish and ordinary, but this hides an unfortunate condition;
he occasionally erupts in nonstop profanity.
All the actors engage in physical
and verbal comedy. The nonstop, rapid-fire bawdy jokes, silly
circumstances and crotch-referenced humor left the opening night
audience in near hysteria; impromptu applause greeted the end
of all the scenes and the sound of laughter almost obscured some
of the lines.
The men spend their time around
the table, eating and making dishes for Louise, who spends her
days dreaming and hoping for something more than her loveless
marriage to the much older and boring Theo. She's encouraged
in her reveries by her nosy and romantic upstairs neighbor, Gertrude
Dueter (Pamela Lyall), who sews her even silkier drawers!
The last actor, Brice W. Harris
IV, plays the King himself, who enters in the last act to close
the action and leave us wondering what happens next.
As always, Redwood Curtain puts
on a great show. The accomplished technical team includes director
Jyl Hewston, scene design, Shannon West, light design, Jesse
Talbert, spectacular costumes by Heidi Caldwell, sound design
by John Turney and hair and makeup by Christina Jioras.
Leave the kids at home, but
don't miss "The Underpants," running weekends through
March 12 at 8 p.m. at Redwood Curtain Theatre, on the Henderson
Street side of the Eureka Mall, 800 W. Harris St. Call 443-7688
or visit www.redwoodcurtain.com for dates, tickets and more information.
The acclaimed Dell'Arte show
"Shadow of Giants" returns for three performances,
March 3-6, at the Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake. Call Dell'Arte
for more information at 668-5663.
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