Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Hilarity was on tap as the University of Michigan-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance opened Steve Martin’s 2002 adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s 1911 German comedy The Underpants. Director William Irwin’s cohesive troupe had the Friday night audience not just chuckling, but outright guffawing.
While not really “underpants” but actually frilly and, by today’s standards, voluminous knickers, their effect when glimpsed around Louise Maske’s ankles at the king’s parade was immediate and shocking. Louise (Destiny Dunn) becomes something of a local celebrity while her husband, Theo (Nick Hale) rages at the possible consequences the incident may have on his government job status.
If there was ever an ill-matched couple, it’s the Maskes. Young, petite and lonely, Dunn’s Louise is not ready to be just a house frau without benefits. She stands in stark contrast to Hale’s Theo, a loud, pretentious man given to fits of blame and temper. He is sure that she has disgraced him, and they will never be able to find a renter to supplement his income.
Quite the contrary. Enter Versati, a self-proclaimed poet and apparent upper class dandy who wants to rent the room BECAUSE of Louise’s undies. Josh Clark is almost Johnny Deppish in his top hat and long locks as he proceeds to seduce Louise, or so it seems.
Encouraged by Gertude (Cathleen Arnold) the busybody upstairs neighbor, Louise attempts to accept the poet’s advances and rents him the room. Arnold brought loads of merriment to the UM stage Friday through both her excellent timing and her energetic carriage.
But the renters are piling up as Theo brings home a sniveling, allergy-prone barber named Cohen (Matt Coggins) who also wants the room. Coggins expertly manages to portray this funny little man as a hero with ulterior motives.
Finally, another potential renter arrives claiming to be a scientist and very strict in his avoidance of anything lewd. Klinglehoff (Devin McLean) was, of course, at the parade as well and although quite proper, admits to steams of profanity when stressed. His moment of stress was fun.
This show is typical Steve Martin, filled with lots of double entendre, asides to the audience, pratfalls and witty repartee. Louise’s “how would you like your wiener sliced?” and Theo’s innocent “my wife has able hands” are typical.
Doug Mueller’s set is very impressive – a 1910 German apartment complete with fireplace, window, full kitchen and stairway visible through both the door and overhead transom. The space is well used in this rollicking show.
So, depending on your comic preference, get ready to chuckle, snicker, or laugh heartily and loud at this one. The Underpants continues at UM-Flint through February 19. For more information contact the box office at (810) 237-6520 or (810) 237-6522 or online at http://www.umflint.edu/theatredance/boxoffice.htm