When dramatist Carl Sternhelm penned his satire of German middle class morality, it was released under the title “The Giant,” because the Berlin police considered the original title to be grossly immoral.
It was Germany, 1910; Wilhelm was Kaiser. He was the eldest grandson of the British Queen Victoria. This is probably the reason for the prudish demeanor of 19th Century Germany – the grandson didn’t fall far from the stringent moral fiber of the head of his clan, hence the constabulary demanded the change of the title from “The Underpants.”
Tacoma Little Theatre has reverted to the original title and offers this farcical romp through “The Underpants,” adapted by comedy genius, Steve Martin, for its season opener.
It may seem unusual to 2016 audiences who deal with string bikinis and constant wardrobe malfunctions that to accidentally drop one’s bloomers could cause an almost devastating uproar, but it does – did – in 1910.
In fact our heroine, Louise Maske is verbally berated by Theo, her no-nonsense public employee husband. Theo fears for his job if word gets around that his wife could be party to such an unheard of social blunder.
But when Martin, the master of mockery gets hold of the script, the laughs start to fly where embarrassment once reigned.
The couple, who have been married for just one year, have no offspring; when asked why, Louise explains that they are waiting for Theo to get a raise in pay so they can afford a baby and confesses that if it weren’t for her wedding night, she would still be a virgin!
Poor berated Louise’s faux pas was not only seen by someone – but by some three, all of whom show up on the Maske’s doorstep, trying to rent a spare room, for the proximity of her underpants has left them all smitten with love for the garment’s owner.
The dichotomy of the species is quickly demonstrated with the hanky-panky which insanely follows when the would-be lovers vie for the affections of the straight-laced landlady who confides to her friendly neighbor that she is quite tempted to fall victim to their advances.
Director Jennifer York has no difficulty keeping the audience on top of things as the suitors try to achieve that position with their landlady. She keeps the action moving at a near frantic pace with wonderful “almost gotcha” moments.
Blake R. York has achieved another colorful set showing the Maske’s kitchen which houses a lovely stove and icebox, a dinning set, and a chaise lounge. The front door is stage right and a couple of steps up center stage to the landing with the rental apartment and an exit off left to the master bedroom; down right is a convenient French window used as an entrance by that friendly neighbor.
Michele Graves does some very nice, timely costumes. Niclas R. Olson does the lights and Jeffery Weaver does the props. Dana Galagan is Stage Manager.
The cast is well chosen; each has developed their characters and intertwines them nicely with the others.
Jed Slaughter plays his role as Theo Maske with the stern behavior of the pompous civil servant; he is so good as the big man of little importance in the scheme of things. Slaughter’s casual, off-handed remarks bring the audience to snickers and belly laughs.
Cassie Jo Fastabend is charming and almost virginal as Louise Maske, the focus of the problem which brings men panting to her door. Fastabend uses a wide-open stare to demonstrate her innocence with a quiet disgruntled rage to admit her malcontent with her home and life in general.
Deya Ozburn is the outspoken neighbor Gertrude Deuter. Ozburn lithely pops on and off the stage through the window with the alacrity of a second-story man. The actor shows her thrill of the incident with bursts of suggestions to her friend of how to best capitalize on it, conveying to the audience that she only wishes it could have been she who was in Louise’s situation.
Ben Stahl is Frank Versati, the poet entranced by the unheard of accident and first to fall under the spell of the stable cotton garment. Stahl resembles a Lautrec character for the Moulin Rouge. He is comical in his delivery and poetic in his stumbling vie for Louise’s affections
Andrew Fry is a groveling Benjamin Cohen, a somewhat less overt suitor enamored with the drawers and the person they engulf. Fry has Cohen torn between his attraction to the scandalous event and his hypochondriac behavior.
Dale Bowers is Klinglehoff, a somewhat innocent bystander to the whole affair. Bowers is excellent as the older gentleman only interesting in renting the spare room – as long as it is in a good respectable house. Bowers is a delight to watch during his brief poppings on and off stage and his moral harangue.
Bob Lozier makes his TLT debut as The Distinguished Caller and brings uproars of deserved laughter with his short time on stage.
The final cast member is Steve Martin. No, the multi-facetted entertainer is not in the show – but his namesake – a blue budgie sits quietly near the downstage left side of the stage in a beautiful cage and actually delivers an unforgettable “line” on cue. Well done, Stevie.
“The Underpants” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through October 2 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturday with 2 p.m. matinees Sunday. There is a 7:30 p.m. Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday, September 29,
“The Underpants” is recommended for ages over 13; however, parents might want to make that decision themselves. There is nothing strikingly immoral about this show that you can’t see worse on primetime TV and a lot of children’s programs.
Yes, times have changed since 1910 – for the better? Well, at least for the funnier especially when it comes to “The Underpants.”