Arts & Culture
3:52 pm
Thu May 13, 2010

Bill Gale reviews 'The Underpants' at 2nd Story

Providence, R.I. – Yes, indeed, "frisky" is just the word for this century old German tour de farce by a now mostly forgotten fellow named Carl Sternheim. His script ran on about . . .Oh, well, let's not worry about that.

For you see, Herr Sternheim's script has been adapted - and you strongly suspect __ largely re-engineered by that man of many an artistic talent, Steve Martin.

The result at 2nd Story is an hour and a half of hilarity and wit, salacious good fun, all put together with speedy care by director Ed Shea. The plot is ... Oh, have I forgotten the title?

Well, ahh, yes. The name of the play is "The Underpants." It concerns the loss of a lady's knickers. The objects in question, you see, fell from her hips to her heels as she became excited watching the King parade by. That unfortunate moment is followed by another parade as young males chase the lady in question, all the while running circles around her poor nincompoop of a husband, a civil servant interested more in his "responsible" job and ultimate pension than anything as fraught as sex with his wife.

All of this is right up director Shea's alley. He loves fast moving theater and is unafraid to take chances with it. In "The Underpants" he and a super fine cast have gone for Marxism. No, not the kind of Karl, the kind of Groucho, and his entourage.

The actors parade boldly on stage. Each makes an entrance, chest-popping, eyes bright. They declaim their lines with all the confidence of people who know they are being funny, no mean trick. When they leave the stage, they often march off in line, one, two, three, just like Groucho and the boys used to do all those decades ago.

The jokes come fast and furious, and bad sometimes, deliberately bad. Take this little moment: The wife, she of the fallen panties, and a resulting awakening sexuality, is describing in some detail her fantasy of making love with a man other than her husband. In walks hubby: "Is the weiner in the oven yet?" he declaims.

Trust me, in the context of this production that line, somehow, works. The cast is headed by a marvelous F. William Oakes, as the pompous hubby. He even looks like Groucho, as he gives you a perfect picture of a self-important chump. Rachael Morris is the undergarment-losing wife and she is hilarious and sexy, nicely shading a performance which shows the woman's pluck, and ability to learn from disaster.

The rest, Paula Faber, Dillon Medina, Jonathan Jacobs and Vince Petronio, are all individually strong and part of an ensemble.

I said before that "The Underpants" is pure fun. But actually the performance by Morris as the wife shows us a woman growing in confidence and ability despite difficulty.

So how can you go wrong: The right sort of Marxism, mixed with some sexual byplay, crisp humor, and a bit of growth for a young woman? "The Underpants" is worth seeing.

"The Underpants" continues at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren through May 30th. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for WRNI.