FST’s production of “The Underpants” provides a laugh-laden evening of entertaining sexual innuendo and sexist satire. Adapted by one of America’s most revered contemporary writer/comedians, Steve Martin, the play was written by German Expressionist writer and cultural critic, Carl Sternheim. Written in the 1920s, the original play was an absurdist exposé of middle-class morality and gender inequality. Sternheim believed that people should act in accordance with their inner nature as opposed to a fixed, artificial morality imposed from without. As one character states, “Desire adjusts morality,” to justify itself.
The patently ridiculous premise hinges on a woman’s underwear — read: knickers for this historical period — which come untied and fall to her ankles during a parade for the king, causing a ruckus that’s reported in the daily news. What follows are two acts of ridicule heaped on the men’s response to this unexpected glimpse of lingerie, in which the women come out subtly on top.
Bruce Jordan, who directed the wildly successful “Shear Madness” twice at FST, steers this similarly offbeat ship with equal gusto and pace. The lively ensemble cast includes new and returning seasoned talent. Gil Brady plays Theo Maske, a self-important minor bureaucrat who makes a lousy husband and declares to his wife, “I want to stop nagging you, but you won’t let me.” Jennifer Joan Thompson plays his wife, Louise Maske, and owner of the infamous unmentionables, who becomes enlightened and empowered by the proceedings. The dual role of Frank Versati and King is played with enthusiastic swarm by Danny Bernardy. Daryl Embry plays nerdy Benjamin Cohen with cringing conviction. Chet Carlin plays the small role of Klinglehoff with the perfect degree of fuddy-duddy. Most enjoyable to me was Mary Ann Conk’s comedic performance as neighbor Gertrude Deuter, who supplies our heroine with additional pairs of lace undies and voices the most rational, humanistic views of the events, and, I suspect, the author’s.
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