Keep your pants on
There’s a lot of Steve Martin in The Underpants. The actor, comedian and screenwriter leaves fingerprints all over his adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s classic 1910 German farce Die Hose.
For the last decade, Martin has added writer and playwright to his résumé, with the publication of a pair of novellas and a few plays. Two have been staged locally. The Sacramento Theatre Company presented his Picasso at the Lapin Agile two seasons ago, and now the B Street Theatre is unveiling Martin’s Underpants.
Martin always has been a dichotomy. He’s a silly sophisticate, a goofy intellectual and a lowbrow comedian with highbrow tastes. Martin’s two plays reflect this paradox and become bookends to those contradictions. Lapin Agile is a thought-provoking fantasy of a fictional meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, and The Underpants is a broad comedy filled with sexual innuendoes, crazy characters and slapstick humor.
The Underpants is not big on ideas, but it is big on laughs. Briefly, the play is about a young wife who loses her knickers just as the king rides by, creating a social scandal and marital upheaval. It seems poor newlywed Louise forgot to tighten the knot on her underwear, which fall to her feet in front of everyone. The unmentionables become the only thing mentioned around town, and her husband, Theo, a government clerk, is sure the scandal of the outed undies will be his undoing.
Underwear humor becomes a running gag and sets an over-the-top tone to this fanciful farce. Adding to the madcap mayhem are a nosey neighbor, a couple of randy roommates and the king himself. And then there’s Louise’s emerging sexuality. There isn’t an ounce of subtlety or a smidgen of sophistication to be found, but amusing absurdities abound. It’s basically burlesque, with running gags that tend to get old but are funny enough to keep the action on track.
The cast is fun—especially Peter Story as the cartoonish husband and Hanyok as the pantyless wife. (Though Story and Hanyok also paired up in the Children’s Theatre of California production of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, please note that The Underpants is not a play for kids.) Carting in more craziness are David Pierini (last seen in Around the World in 80 Days), Frank Versati as a kooky Italian, David Silberman as the new roomie, and Jonathan Stutzman as the king.