The Underpants

underpantsThe Short Version: When Louise’s underpants mysteriously fall off during a parade for the King, Theo is convinced that he will lose his job and everything he holds dear.  Meanwhile, under his nose, two gentlemen who got a view of Louise’s nether regions have arrived to rent their available room – and make off with Louise in the process.

The Review: You know, I think there’s a reason we go to the French for our farces and not the Germans.  If there’s one thing that seems entirely at odds with the Germanic attitude, it’s frivolity – and that’s what a farce needs in order to run.  Steve Martin (yes, he of the wild & crazy) does a good job at bringing a sense of fun to the play but I wonder if it’s actually just lacking a fundamental sense of how a farce should work.

It’s funny enough, don’t get me wrong – the elements are all in place, with people entering and exiting at just the right moments and deceptions and betrayals happening right in front of unseeing eyes.  There’s even a great little appearance by the King himself at the end of the play, which is amusing and curious… and yet nothing’s really done with it, as Louise seems to’ve given up on the idea of finding a lover at that point.  Of course, it could be played that she and the King have an understanding – whereas on the page there’s no such revelation.

I just found it lacking in a certain snap that I look for in my farces.  Look at David Ives’ The Liar.  That update isn’t even really a farce, per se, but it zips.  It has a sense of energy and perpetual humoric (made that word up) motion.  This play doesn’t ever reach that level of non-stop breathless manic action.  Instead, it picks up speed and certainly has a few laughs… but I only found it moderately entertaining as opposed to wildly so.

I will say that the update (as Martin mentions in his preface) works well – it sheds some light on the circumstances of the modern era as opposed to just being a faithful translation of the original work.  I appreciated Martin’s tossed-in line about “waiting for the adaptation” of the “new Sternheim” that Gertrude sees.  I liked the gender politics angle of the play, especially in light of the recent uproar over gender politics in the US – in fact, I think that was the most interesting part of the whole shebang.  But you never want the politics to be the most interesting part of a farce!  You want the funny to be the most important part… and sadly, here, it isn’t even a contest.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.  A good adaptation and probably a better staged production than the script allows.  Barry Edelstein, a director I greatly admire, was the one who shepherded this into production when he was running CSC in New York and I desperately wish I had seen it.  As for now, I’m glad to’ve read it – but it hasn’t really done much to truly excite me on the page.

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