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Review: Center REP's wildly talented comedy corps continues its string of comic triumphs with its production of Steve Martin's The Underpants, a play that is both wildly hilarious and silly beyond belief


Center REP’s wildly talented comedy corps continues its string of comic triumphs with its production of Steve Martin’s “The Underpants,” a play that is both wildly hilarious and silly beyond belief.

The show, adapted from a 1910 German farce by Carl Sternheim, considers the possible ramifications of what might happen if a German housewife, Louise (Lyndsy Kail) accidentally lost her underpants while watching the king’s parade.

While the dropping of one’s drawers is a near-impossibility, proven when Louise attempts to repeat the feat in a gyrating dance in the privacy of her own home. But, it somehow happened in a rare accident beside a tree on the parade route.

Her husband Theo (Keith Pinto) a tightly wound and insanely obedient government clerk, is incensed by the event, not because of the embarrassment to his wife, but because it might ruin his career.

And, despite Louise’s protestations that nobody saw her, two gentlemen, Ben Johnson (Frank Versati), a fop whose only true love appears to be himself, and Benjamin Cohen (Cassidy Brown) an extremely shy barber who goes to great pains to insist he isn’t Jewish to the occasionally Hitler-like Theo, both want to rent the room in Louise and Theo’s place.

At the first moment of privacy, however, both men take Louise into their arms, ply her with kisses and insist her falling undies were a near-religious experience.

And on it goes from there, spinning wildly in fits of silliness and even some pointed commentary on the nature of the relationship between the sexes, also made funny with the appearances of Gertrude Deuter (Jamie Jones), the Ethyl to Louise’s Lucy, and a woman intent on seeing her pal has an affair to make up for her nearly unconsummated marriage.

But what really makes it work is director Michael Butler and his cast, who squeeze as much laughter from what they do as they do from what they say – essentially, Martin has provided the trapeze, but the cast provides the breathtaking stunts. Each has created a memorable character, finding nuances and chances for humor in almost everything they do.

Brown, Johnson and Even Boomer as Klinglehoff are designed, somehow, as comic relief in this jungle of laughter, do their jobs and much more, starting with their bizarre costumes, their manner, their odd physicality and a host of other quirks that have you laughing before they open their mouths. Jones too is wildly funny, delivering her lines with a lifted eyebrow and a meaning much more funny then the words, themselves.

Kail and Pinto, as the dysfunctional couple at the middle of all this, are an odd couple all on their own with some excellent comic bits, including Kail’s underwear dance and Pinto’s diatribes on the roles of men and women and his goose-stepping through the living room.

Butler gets huge credit on this – he is a master at directing comedy and has truly built a comedy corps for the theater by finding an incredible team of comic actors, amazing plays, and a backstage staff to create a stunning playing environment. The set, by Nina Ball, is a period living room, with lots of doors for slamming, built to look like an enormous birdcage. Costumes, by Victoria Livingston-Hall run from pure period pieces to outrageous looks that start the audience laughing before her characters have spokes. The wigs, designed by Judy Disbrow are simply right and often seem to enhance the oddness of some characters.

 


Curtain Calls: A brand new set of "Underpants"


By Sally Hogarty
November 1, 2012

 

Center Repertory Company opened a hilarious production of Steve Martin's "The Underpants" last week. You would think that anything by the renowned comedic actor would be a slam-dunk, but if you saw the production by another local theater several years ago, you know that a director/company's interpretation can easily turn a comedy into a tragedy.

Not so with Center Rep's production, which runs through Nov. 17 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts.

Astutely directed by Michael Butler, the production takes full advantage of Martin's clever wit and flair for physical comedy as the playwright pokes fun at our fascination with fame and our obsession with sex. Set in the early 1900s, the story revolves around conservative government worker Theo and his young wife Louise; the latter inadvertently becomes the object of several men's desires when her bloomers fall down in public.

You know you're in for a treat when you first see Nina Ball's stylized set with walls suggesting the gilded cage that the lively Louise (played beautifully by Lyndsy Kail) longs to flee. With the help of a nosy neighbor (the hilarious Gertrude Deuter), Louise plans an affair with her boarder, the suave poet Versati (a charming Ben Johnson). But Cohen, another boarder (well played by Cassidy Brown), thwarts their every move. Theo (wonderfully portrayed by Keith Pinto) is oblivious to all as he worries whether his wife's wardrobe malfunction will cost him his job. Other characters include Klinglehoff (the impeccable Evan Boomer) and the King (a delightful John R. Lewis), both of whom also desire rooms in the now infamous house.

Costume designer Victoria Livingston-Hall and wig designer Judy Disbrow add greatly to the comedic flair of Center Rep's production with outrageous designs, especially Theo's hair and corduroy shorts and the King's helmet crowned with a rooster.

 


The Underpants a raucous/ribald romp at Center REP


By Kedar Adour
October 24, 2012


THE UNDERPANTS: Comedy by Steve Martin. Adapted from the1910 German farce Die Hose by Carl Sternheim. Directed by Michael Butler. Center REPertory Company, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA . 925-295-1413 or www.centerrep.org. October 23 – November 17, 2012

THE UNDERPANTS a raucous/ribald/romp at Center Rep.

The Center Rep’s production of The Underpants that is Steve Martin’s adaptation of the 1910 German Farce Die Hose is by far the most original staging of the four that this reviewer has seen. This includes the two directed by the highly regarded Jon Jory at San Jose Rep and seasoned Robert Currier at Ross Valley Players. But leave it to Artistic Director Michael Butler to put his personal stamp on the show and in doing so grabs the brass ring for ingenuity and it is hilarious. The three “R”s of ‘Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic are perverted in this production to a Raucous, Ribald, Romp that now includes Riotous.

The words in The Underpants belong to the multitalented Steve Martin via the German expressionist play by Carl Sternheim. The core of Expressionism emphasized that the basic primal instinct is sex and the uninhibited sexuality of Bohemian lifestyle was de rigueur. Women are the polar opposite of men whose only purpose is to nurture the men. Maybe so in 1910 but this is the 21st century and things have been turned topsy-turvy especially on the stage at Center Rep. That being so, we can give this version of the play (thanks to director Butler) a PG-13 rating and four stars for being vastly entertaining with a modicum of social didactics thrown in.

Consider the improbability of it all. Theo (Keith Pinto) and Louise (Lyndsy Kail) Maske are a respectable, cash strapped German couple. To balance the budget and earn enough money to afford a baby, have placed a “Room for Rent” sign in their window without takers. No takers, until Louise has unintentionally (??), dropped and retrieved her underpants while standing in a crowd waiting to see the King appear in a downtown parade. How quickly she retrieved the fateful piece of clothing becomes suspect when a “parade” of would be renters appear.

Frank Verati (Ben Johnson) an unpublished poet arrives complete with black cape, and we later learn dyed hair. The underpants have stimulated his creative juices , among other things (“I want to go to sleep with you. It will only take a minute.”). Gertude (AJ Jamie Jones) the sensual, full-bodied, red-headed neighbor has heard the goings on. Her visceral juices flow thinking about what Versati and Louise could be doing. She does her damnedest to aid Louise in getting the dastardly deed done.

Next to enter is the smitten Cohen (Cassidy Brown), “Jewish?” Theo asks. “No. It’s Cohn. . . with a K.” “OK.” Theo splits the room in two and rents to both, thus setting up the competition between Cohn and Versati to get another look at the underpants . . . or is to get into her underpants? The gentle Cohen becomes Louise’s protector.

Later, but not lastly, Klingehoff (Evan Boomer) a professorial type arrives and adds a bit of humor with his naivety that misses the mark due to the one directorial misstep by Butler. The last arrival will surprise you.

Keith Pinto controls center stage when it his turn to emote. He plays the man of the house with stogy humorous veracity that even makes him likeable. Petite attractive Lyndsy Kail is absolutely charming as she progresses from the put-upon wife, to the woman desirous of an affair and finally the controller of her own destiny with the admonition, [I will do it] “In my own time!” Scene stealer Jamie Jones in her bright red wig exudes repressed sexuality as her pheromones boil over and she overhears that “Water still runs in rusty pipes” when it is her turn to be the object of desire. Ben Johnson plays the egocentric Verati as if he were born to the role. My favorite is Cassidy Brown playing Cohen (with a K) who recognizes vanity and jealously of it all and receives applause when he finally declares to Theo “That’s Cohen with a C!”

Steve Martin will have to step aside since this is Michael Butler’s play. He uses all the six doors on stage, he adds deft directorial touches to his almost slap-stick direction and throws in music, dance and light to this fanciful not to be missed evening. The set is a marvel (Nina Ball) being a huge gilded bird cage populated by distinctive characters dressed in outrageous Victoria Livingston-Hall costumes with wigs to die for by Judy Disbrow. Running time about 90 minutes without intermission.