September 10, 2003


The Underpants

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning











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special to The Charlotte Observer

Back in the old days, when a womanís underpants were held up by slender cords, anything could happen. To the embarrassed delight of Louise Maske, and the mortification of her government-employed husband Theo, it did, during a parade in Germany before the first World War, as she waved to the King.

Delightful wordplay and distinctive character acting elicit hearty guffaws in the opening show of Barebone Theatre Groupís sixth season. Steve Martinís fresh adaptation of German playwright Carl Sternheimís 1911 play retains a stiff German backbone while tickling the American funnybone.

The Underpants has many farcical elements, yet displays unusual depth for this genre. The characters are pithy, and several evolve during the play. Theo Maske is an oafish government clerk with a boorish sense of humor and an arrogance bordering on pathos. As Theo Aaron Moore employs a straightforward delivery, and a seal bark laugh to make this character loveable, despite his piggish nature.

After her "incident," two gentlemen, both comically different from her husband, pursue Louise. Versati, played with suave effusiveness by Victor Sayegh, is a poet in search of a muse. The pale and sickly Cohen, enthralled by his view of Louise in the buff, is depicted with tender humor by Glenn Hutchinson. The play crescendos when the three are engaged in casual debate.

Harding is beautifully cast as a Louise, who represents a trinity of what men desire from women. The first is dutiful house frau. The second is the unattainable woman who lives on a pedestal as an ideal, not as a real person. The third is the lascivious sexual creature that men both hope for and fear. Only the nosy neighbor Gertrude, played by Nicia Carla, depends on overblown physical character traits for humor.

Martinís playful mastery of the English language translates into delicious zingers, and a cascade of revealing double entendres. "How would you like your wiener grilled?" Louise asks her husband. "My wife has able hands," Theo assures Louiseís admirers, both eager to test this assertion. The play is both bawdy and erudite; a fabulous combination.

Lynn Trenning, September 10, 2003

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