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Feb. 24, 2005
Behind the Stage Door
The improbable in pursuit of the unmentionable


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 pension.

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 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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