BWW Review: THE UNDERPANTS at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre
On Friday, May 18, I had the pleasure of seeing a hilarious farce called, THE UNDERPANTS, at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre in Berlin, CT. Legendary screen actor Steve Martin adapted this show from a 1910 German production called Die Hose, which was written by Carl Sternheim. Director Kris McMurray has again taken a superb cast and brought out their greatest talents, both as individuals and as a collective group. The packed house enjoyed every moment of this first-rate production.
This first show of the new season at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre continues with the high quality that the previous season has delivered on every show. It is not surprising that more and more season subscriptions are selling, at this theatre, as word continues to spread about the high level of entertainment the audience can consistently expect with every production, regardless of genre.
The set depicts the kitchen in a German residence that is lived in by Theo and Louise Maske. Exits and entrances come through the center stage outside door, as well as through two bedroom doors, located towards the back of stage right and stage left. The conviction by which the cast members perform their roles makes it easy to forget that there are no actual bedrooms behind those doors.
It is clear that every cast member is having a great time on stage, playing their roles, becoming their characters on stage. The stage chemistry is tight between the entire cast. Their positive energy radiates forth to the audience members who are all clearly having a good time.
Rick Bennett who has starred in comical roles in previous Connecticut Cabaret Theatre musicals now brings his talents to this comedy, where he continues to excel on stage, in the role of Theo Maske. Theo is a man who has a very warped view of how a husband should treat his wife, and is unapologetic about openly expressing his chauvinistic attitudes, even when talking to his wife, or while speaking to others in her presence. Theo is deliberately over-the-top in his socially and morally unacceptable perspectives, which Rick Bennett delivers with sincerity, totally selling the character.
Ashley Ayala, who recently excelled as the granddaughter in Nana's Naughty Knickers, continues to thrive on stage, bringing her acting talents to the role of Louise Maske, who is Theo's repressed wife. Ashley Ayala's facial expressions are priceless, as they convey so many emotions and feelings. This is a powerful means of communication, with the story set in a social situation in which Louise was not considered quite as free to openly express her feelings, through words.
The initial conflict between Theo and Louise is a result of Louise's underpants accidentally falling down in a public situation, in the presence of the king. Theo fears that when word gets out that such a thing happened with his wife, he may lose his job. Theo exaggerates the significance of the situation, while Louise tries to downplay it.
Theo and Louise have a guest room in their residence that is available to rent. After Louise's underpants incident, two different men take interest in renting the open room, in hopes of getting closer to Louise, both with romantic intentions towards her, interest that is not dissuaded when they find out she is married. Theo, who is oblivious to their goals towards his wife, agrees to divide the rented room into two sections, so they both may simultaneously rent the room, both paying high amounts of money.
The first man is Frank Versati who is brilliantly played by Russell Fish, who delivers every word with total clarity, even with a spot-on Italian accent. Frank is a poet who views Louise as his inspiration. He is very direct and unapologetic about his interest in Louise. While Russell Fish has consistently been amazing in various roles in different shows of multiple genres, this energetic character is my all-time favorite of his performances I have seen.
The theatre's technical designer, James J. Moran, who helps create the powerful friendly community vibe of the theatre, by welcoming the patrons, now takes the stage by storm in this production, stealing the show, playing the role of Benjamin Cohen, the other renter. Like Frank, Benjamin had become enamored with Louise after witnessing the underpants incident. Benjamin is aware of Frank's desires towards Louise, and out of jealousy strives to prevent Frank from any romance with Louise. James J. Moran is constantly in character on stage, making Benjamin very believable as a comedic hypochondriac who is simultaneously direct and naïve, truly a role cleverly written and wonderfully performed.
Barbara Horan who has starred in various dramatic roles, in past productions, shows another talented side of her acting, in an excellent performance of Gertrude Deuter, the nosey upstairs neighbor who tries to pressure Louise to make the wrong choices, in regards to fidelity towards her husband. Louise who initially wants to be a faithful wife, despite the condescending manner by which Theo treats her, enjoys the new male attention she is receiving after the underpants incident. Gertrude slickly tries to play upon Louise's emotions to manipulate her into having an affair with Frank. Does Gertrude succeed in convincing Louise to cheat on her husband? If so, does the affair actually happen? Come to the show to find out.
Dave Wall is great as Klinglehoff, a serious character whose seriousness becomes farcical, when juxtaposed with the over-the-top characters in the show. Klinglehoff also wants to rent the room, but without any indecent intent towards Louise. Dave Wall's serious countenance and mannerisms help make Klinglehoff the perfect deliberate contradiction to the other characters.
A highly unexpected, but brilliantly comedic and highly entertaining surprise comes towards the end of the show. Regular patrons of the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre will particularly be delighted by this event on the stage. I will not spoil this moment by giving it away, here, though. To find out what I am referring to, come see the show!
For mature audiences, I highly recommend THE UNDERPANTS, which is scheduled to continue to run at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre, in Berlin, CT, every Friday and Saturday night at 8:00 PM, through, June 23rd, 2018, with the exception of on Memorial Day Weekend. For tickets, please go to www.ctcabaret.com.