Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre
987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
When: Through Sept. 30;
Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m.
North Coast Rep takes audiences on an adventure with Steve Martin’s ‘The Underpants’
By Charlene Baldridge | SDUN Theater Critic
The name North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT) does not pop to the fore when it comes to presentation of adventuresome fare. With few exceptions over the past decade, NCRT patrons have enjoyed generally uncontroversial and transparent pieces such as “Lend Me a Tenor,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “The Odd Couple.”
Take a look, however, at the first play in NCRT’s 31st season. Ostensibly, Carl Sternheim’s “The Underpants” is a rip-roaring farce about a respectable young wife whose underpants fall down at a 1910 King’s Parade in Düsseldorf. Just under the surface, pun intended, it is absolutely ribald.
Playing at NCRT through Sept. 30, the original work was adapted by actor and comedian Steve Martin. The setting remains the same because no other period would do.
If a proper woman showed so much as an ankle in that era, it was scandalous, so losing one’s underpants is a major cause for concern to Theo Maske (played by Matthew Henerson), a clerk who fears he might lose his government job as a result of his young wife’s unintentional indiscretion. Louise (charming Holly Rone) insists no one noticed, but soon a stream of potential lodgers appears, among them a gentleman poet named Versati (Jacob Bruce); the neurotic Benjamin Cohen (Omri Schein), who loves Wagner and insists his name is spelled with a K; and an ascetic old man named Klinglehoff (Jonathan McMurtry), who purportedly seeks serenity.
Aided by her earthy neighbor and friend, Gertrude (wondrous Clarinda Ross), the clever Louise triumphs over all the men, each of them rife with bluster and protestations but possessed of little finesse. At the 11th hour, just when everything appears settled, a surprising character appears, deus ex machina.
Staged by Mark Pinter, the goings-on are underscored by Marty Burnett’s brilliant, off-kilter scenic design; Alina Bokovikova’s period costumes, and John Klicman’s oompah-pah sound design, with a bit of Wagner thrown in for good measure. Lighting designer is Matthew Novotny and Peter Herman creates sure-fire wigs.
“The Underpants” proves to be a quirky piece with plenty of surface hilarity, clever linguistic innuendo and an underlying social critique that proceeds from the original work. In the mouths of her husband and her would-be seducers, Claire’s dilemmas frequently illicit gasps from the audience. What a woman of the era had to endure! What was expected of her in the way of subservience!
Rone and Ross are impeccable, alone and together. Ross is delicious in her scene with the aroused Henerson. Despite a disparate style of delivery – how broad is my farce? – Henerson and Bruce come off as well as is possible for stereotypes, however Schein and McMurtry steal the comedy: Schein with his amazing physicality and McMurtry because of his droll, naïf in paradise befuddlement.