BWW Reviews: THE UNDERPANTS at Charleston Stage Company
There are hidden agendas, passionate poets and scandalous undergarments galore in Charleston Stage Company's production of THE UNDERPANTS, running now through March 22! Originally titled 'Die Hose' and written by Carl Sternheim in the early 20th Century, this version has been adapted by funny-man Steve Martin for a modern audience. At first I was disenchanted by the title, but considering that we aren't talking about our 21st century ideas of lingerie and that the 'pants' in question are more like pantaloons, I was able to move on from that.
Through absolutely no fault of her own, the main character Louise Maske (and owner of aforementioned undies), is simply a victim of bad luck. The King is visiting Dusseldorf, and in the midst of all of the festivities, Louise's underpants fall down. Maybe she didn't tie them tight enough? Maybe their was a ribbon malfunction? Maybe no one noticed? Her husband Theo Maske, however, certainly did notice and is thrown into a panic, thinking that the shame of such an event will threaten his job and livelihood. The pair leads a happy life, though Theo is quite the misogynist, and poor Louise craves passion and excitement. They are looking to rent out a spare room in their house to bring in some extra income. On the same day as the fated 'panty-dropping', not one, but two prospective renters show up interested in the room. The first is Versati, a passionate and ADHD-driven poet and the second, Cohen, a wimpy but sweet hypochondriac. In true farcical fashion, Louise concocts a plot to have an affair with the poet, with the help of her brassy/sassy neighbor Gertrude. Hilarity does in fact ensue.
Farce is notoriously one of the most difficult forms of comedy, with its timed entrances and exits, strong and sometimes almost caricatured characters, fast pace and high energy. This production was very true to these ideals. Charleston Stage veteran Vanessa Moyen plays Louise with darling innocence, but with a playful twinkle in her eye that lets you know she's always up to something, even when she's simply fixing dinner. It would take some patience dealing with George Younts's Theo, who is everything a true German man ought to be: Tough, dispassionate and a hard worker. Younts commands the stage with his deep, booming voice, the clear patriarch, even despite Theo's anti-feministic ways. The pair of boarders, Versati and Cohen, were the icing on this comedy cake. Kyle Barnette's Versati was larger than life, with a hilarious flourish at every single one of his exits. Jesse Siak (A member of Charleston Stage's Resident Acting Company) had this character in his bones, which resulted in one of the most consistent performances I have seen recently. There was a cringe with every touch, and wonderfully timed reactions to the loud brashness of his co-stars. As the meddling neighbor Gertrude, Andrea McGinn pranced around the stage with aplomb, a refreshing reminder of the real power of women, both on stage and off. The cast is rounded out by John Michael Chappell as the King of Germany, and Ross Magoulas as Klinglehoff. This production is directed by Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director for Charleston Stage Company.
Another star of this show is the costumer Janine Mccabe. Wonderfully vibrant colors and patterns are used to accentuate the stronger parts of each characters personality: Versati's fur lined coat, Louise's girlish, flowery tops and Theo's vests seemingly bursting at the buttons. The costumes were obviously influenced by German fashion of the time, but the use of color really made each character pop. The set was like a large homey playground for the cast to play on. Designed by J. Kenneth Barnett III, it features a two level apartment and full kitchen.
THE UNDERPANTS is a lighthearted comedy that appeals to the girl-power in all of us. The women characters spend most of their time figuring out how to dupe the men, who are under the impression that they each hold all the cards. In fact, it is Louise who comes out on top- with a fresh outlook on life, and new hope for her future. It'a amazing what some sexy lingerie (or...pantaloons) will get you.
Tickets are available at the box office or at www.charlestonstage.com