Director Jeffrey Coyle Chats THE UNDERPANTS at American Repertory Theater of WNY
Nearly one century later when Steve Martin set out to adapt this satirical take on German society, he saw the farcical humor found within Sternheim's writing then placed his own well-known brand of comic humor and timing to the story. The result is a highly engaging and hysterical romp that has been produced by over 30 theater companies over the past 12 years.
Overseeing Steve Martin's THE UNDERPANTS presentation at American Repertory Theater of Western New York, is regional director Jeffrey Coyle. Not a newcomer to directing or the company's stage, Jeff has been part of American Repertory Theater of WNY's continuing success for the ten-past seasons. Two of his greatest directorial regional award accomplishments were earned for his work on the musicals, FLOYD COLLINS and BLOODY BLOODY Andrew Jackson.
Taking time from the busy rehearsal schedule, Jeffrey was able to answer some questions about the production and Steve Martin's work, THE UNDERPANTS:
You are currently directing Steve Martin's THE UNDERPANTS adaptation of the German playwright Kurt Sternhiem's DIE HOSE at American Rep. How would you describe Martin's interpretation on the original work and how his own unique sense of humor is imported into the adaptation?
JC: Steve Martin's THE UNDERPANTS is a silly story about passion, both absent and awakening. The main differences between the original and Martin's adaptation is in tone and character focus. DIE HOSE is a much darker comedy and firmly a product of a different social time. For example, within the first four lines of dialogue, the husband character beats his wife with a stick as punishment for loosing her underpants. The original German play focuses on the husband and how the other characters are able to trick him, and relates that to a larger commentary on then-current German society.
Steve Martin's adaptation refocuses the main point of view to the wife character, Louise, played by Candice Kogut, and explores her emotional and sexual awakening. The adaptation has that trademark Steve Martin humor, too, which is a mix, at times, of slapstick/vaudeville and cerebral/witty. Any fan of THE JERK, or ROXANNE, or FATHER OF THE BRIDE, or SHOPGIRL will find pleasant and welcome similarities throughout THE UNDERPANTS.
What is your directorial forte? How does this apply to directing this work?
JC: I strive to craft smooth, flowing productions when I direct. I often ask my actors to keep the energy high and keep the action moving forward. This is of benefit for a play like THE UNDERPANTS. Martin's dialogue and humor is fast. Sometimes it is physical and slapstick, and sometimes it is intellectual. The top concern with a comedy like THE UNDERPANTS is keeping the proper pace, but staying crisp and clear with the humor, so that the audience is included on every joke.
Sternheim's original work depicts the stodgy social values of a 1900's bourgeois Germany, and Martin's adaptation also takes place in this same time period as well. What contemporary views can be reflected in THE UNDERPANTS?
JC: As mentioned previously, Martin's adaptation focuses greatly on female empowerment, and the lead character's sexual and intellectual awakening, which certainly leans contemporary. Martin's focus on female empowerment and equality mirrors the recent Women's March On Washington. In addition, the current populist political movement of President Trump ("America first," empowering the American worker, etc) is in some ways comparable to the German Nationalism in full force in the early 19th Century, which several characters touch on. As the saying goes, everything old is new again, and THE UNDERPANTS makes comment simultaneously, both historically and contemporarily, on social and political matters.
You have assembled an outstanding ensemble for this piece. What are you throwing at them?
JC: Steve Martin's THE UNDERPANTS stars the wonderful Candice Kogut, returning to ART OF WNY after previously being seen in HELLO, AGAIN. The cast also features funnymen David Mitchell (PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE), Rich Kraemer (BLOODY BLOODY Andrew Jackson), Benjamin Caldwell (AMERICAN IDIOT), and Michael Starzynski (CARRIE, THE MUSICAL), as well as Buffalo Theatre prima donna Pamela Rose Mangus (FLOYD COLLINS). As I mentioned before, Martin's dialogue and humor is fast. Pacing is paramount, as is tone. We approach these characters and situations from a place of realism, but with the recognition that our main point is humor, and that means at times we experience a suspension of disbelief.
What are audiences going to expect from this production?
JC: March can be a difficult time to want to go outside, with the (hopefully) end of winter still rearing its' cold, wet head. We at ART OF WNY want to reward those who make the trip out with an evening of pure silliness. We cannot wait to entertain you with our production of Steve Martin's THE UNDERPANTS.
American Repertory Theater of WNY opens THE UNDERPANTS on March 9th and runs to April 1st. Ticket prices are $20 General Admission; $15 Student and Military Veterans. There is a special $10 Thursday night offering for all. Showtimes are 8 pm, Thursday through Saturday evenings. For more information, visit www.artofwny.org or to make ticket reservations, text 716-697-0837.
Pictured: Jeffrey Coyle with cast of THE UNDERPANTS.