The underwear is everywhere in Blue Room’s The Underpants
The smell of fine food and the sound of German polka circus music drew me into the Blue Room last Friday night for the mad adventure of Steve Martin’s The Underpants. After sumptuous salmon taquitos and spinach canapés courtesy of Spice Creek and a glass of merlot, I was primed for a few laughs.
The schizo-frenetic set, designed by Jeremy Votava and painted with romper room glee by Amber Miller, had a kind of Dr. Seuss acid trip feel. The walls were painted with wide vertical green-and-white stripes on the lower half, then broken up by a line of molding and topped with bright purple. The doors were accented with crooked trapezoidal squares, and the fireplace was like a lightning bolt of brick down the center of the room. The furniture was either painted in primary colors or covered in loud velvet fabric, depicting “the home of Theo and Louise, somewhere in Germany, 1910.”
Adapted by Steve Martin from the Carl Sternheim play and directed by our local queen of comedy, Betty Burns, The Underpants is a hilarious study of the sexual repression and obsession that go along with the traditional male and female roles that marked German culture at the turn of the century.
The show opened with Slim Barkowska as the robust Theo bursting through the door in an explosion of crazily accented indignation, followed by his dainty wife Louise, played by Erica Holland. Looking like Dolly Parton’s long-lost daughter, Holland explains that it wasn’t her fault that her underpants fell down in public that morning, right in front of the whole world, at the King’s parade: “…it was an act of God.”
Theo is convinced that his reputation is shot, however, and the ensuing conflict is the foundation for the rest of the play. Sweating and strutting, with an accent as thick as his thighs, Barkowska is irresistibly loveable as the chauvinistic Theo.
Holland vamps and simpers as the “innocent” Louise, equally effective as both the sweet little wifey and the manipulative seductress.
A window pane suspended above downstage center announced that the apartment was “for rent,” and soon the fame of the sexy underpants incident has drawn prospective tenants/suitors like moths to the flame.
A busybody upstairs neighbor, Gertrude, played with lusty, top-heavy glee by Joey Mahoney, enters the picture, determined to make the innocent little Louise into a sex kitten (by making her several pairs of really hot underpants, for one) in order to incite her husband’s desire (and that of the randy renters) and finally provide the couple with “the patter of little feet.”
As Theo says, “Do not underestimate the power of the glimpse of lingerie.” Indeed, we surmise that Gertrude might be living vicariously through her promotion of her young nubile friend.
The poet Versati is the first suitor. He’s depicted with romantic fervor by the ultimate Don Juan, Javier Lopez. As soon as Theo leaves, the besotted poet must hide his passion behind his hat as he chases Louise round the room on his knees. Of course, when Versati stands and proclaims his love while flinging his arms wide, in true Steve Martin fashion, the hat stays in place. Louise responds to his fervor with an awakened passion of her own, declaring with breathy joy, “My pulse… it… exists!”
Up next, as the sickly barber Cohen, is Jeremy Votava, who nearly steals the show with his physical and verbal transformation and well-timed pratfalls in a wheezy, stooped, hypochondriac frenzy of gentlemanly stunts designed to protect Louise, declaring to Versati, “I, sir, am your prophylactic!”
All that is left is the straight man, the uptight Klinglehoff, played by James Wilkerson as the only prospective tenant who knows nothing of the siren call of the underpants.
The mad shenanigans are brought to a happy conclusion only by the cameo appearance of one more surprise character, who is also interested in renting the room and being "serviced" by Theo’s lovely wife. In order to preserve the surprise, I will only reveal that all get what they really want in the end.