Have you ever wondered what the repercussions would be if you lost your pants in front of a crowd of people?
The Arden Theatre Company’s current production of The Underpants, a Carl Sternheim play adapted by the illustrious funny man Steve Martin, tells the story of just such a moment.
The prim heroine, Louise Maske, played by bubbly Ericka Kreutz, accidentally loses her underpants in the middle of a royal parade. The incident triggers a chaotic series of events that transforms an obscure housewife into a voracious vixen, if only to indulge in the spotlight for a moment. It challenges her husband and a host of suitors, who seek her out under the guise of renting a room, to explore their masculinity without getting caught with their pants down.
The play begins with Louise and her irate husband, Theo, played by Barrymore Award winner Scott Greer, returning home after the parade hoping no one else saw the mishap.
Soon Versati, a self-possessed poet played by Jeffrey Coon in what might be the play’s most dynamic performance, and Cohen, a sickly barber who creatively disguises his Jewish background, show up at the Maske’s door.
Both were love struck at the sight of Louise’s lingerie and intend to compete for her affection. Meanwhile, Theo remains as ignorant to their intentions as he is ambivalent to her feelings.
Louise’s sexual appetite for these men is whetted unequivocally by her nosy, no-nonsense neighbor Gertrude, well played by Jennifer Childs, who is perhaps a bit miscast in age. Gertrude lives vicariously through Louise, and simply revels in their attention. Alas, male pride interrupts any adulterous affair from happening when a brief encounter with a third potential boarder evokes a moment of self-empowerment in Louise and causes her to fade back into her life of obscurity with her husband.
Therein lies the heart amidst the humor. The scandal with the underpants may have rocked the fabric of their marriage, but it makes them realize that they truly hungered for each other.
Although set in Germany in 1911, Martin’s adaptation is laced with enough contemporary wit and innuendo to keep the Arden’s intimate audiences drawn to its farce. The hilarity of this production rests in the hands of its expertly assembled cast. Each member of the ensemble possesses the stamina to sustain the pace and pulse of their respective characters. The only hint of hesitation in their performances comes when it’s as if they are holding back laughter themselves.
The choreography of movement in and out and across the stage brilliantly woven together by the director, Aaron Posner, only intensifies the tempo of the play.
The comedy is so well crafted and acted that any attempts to earn cheap laughs through outright exploitation of its subject matter are neglected in favor of humor through a plethora of double entendres.
The Underpants is a rather irreverent social commentary on everything from gender roles to American politics that provides hysterical relief for a society that often takes itself too seriously.
The Underpants is showing now through Oct. 31, at the Arden Theatre Co. For discounted student ticket information go to www.ardentheatre.org.
Brooke Honeyford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.