The Underpants

At a time when explicit sexuality is everywhere you look, it takes a master wordsmith to breathe eroticism into story where all the actors remain fully clothed and the text contains nary a nasty word; but Steve Martin—comedian, playwright, screenwriter, and novelist—is just that in his adaptation of Carl Sternheim's The Underpants.

Not since the Republican-controlled Congress spent $42 million on impeachment proceedings over Monica Lewinsky's thong, has a pair of dropped drawers caused such a public ruckus.

Set in a petit-bourgeois apartment in Düsseldorf in 1910, this fast-paced Miners Alley/Hunger Artists collaboration, directed by Rick Bernstein, plays Martin's double-entendres and farcical opportunities for all their worth, much to everyone's delight, despite some wandering Germanic and French accents and passing lapses in character.

Photo of Chris Bleau (Frank), Betsy Gargano (Louise) and Paige Larson (Gertrude)
Chris Bleau (Frank),
Betsy Gargano (Louise)
and Paige Larson (Gertrude)
Photo: Stacey Nelms
A once-repressed bride turned man-eating vixen, Betsy Gargano as Louise is a revelation at every turn, as the tale of her fallen bloomers is spread far and wide by the rumor mill and tabloids. Her imagination is fueled by her nosy neighbor, Gertrude, whose romantic appetite is whetted by Louise's delicious notoriety. Paige Lynn Larson's swooning histrionics as the overheated Gertrude brought paroxysms of hysteria from the audience.

Photo of Betsy Gargano (Louise) and Tom Salyers (Theo)
Betsy Gargano (Louise)
and Tom Salyers (Theo)
Photo: Stacey Nelms
Louise's husband, the quintessential Teutonic government bureaucrat, Theo Maske, is played to schnapps-swigging, sausage-sated perfection by Tom Salyers. Despite hoots and howls from the audience over his chauvinistic arrogance and parochial judgments, Salyers' Theo sticks to his Deutschemark-worshipping, imagination-starved routine, oblivious to his wife's pent-up frustrations and alienated affections.

Photo of Betsy Gargano (Louise) and Chris Bleau (Frank)
Betsy Gargano (Louise)
and Chris Bleau (Frank)
Photo: Stacey Nelms
Louise's most ardent suitor, the playwright's send-up, Frank Versati, brings her to climactic frustration as he deftly extricates himself from her embraces and sublimates his physical intimations onto the written page. In a tribute to his hambone recipe, Chris Bleau gets both Louise's and the audience's blood cooking, despite a half-baked accent.

Photo of Dell Domnik (Cohen) and Betsy Gargano (Louise)
Dell Domnik (Cohen) and
Betsy Gargano (Louise)
Photo: Stacey Nelms
In what turns out to be a parade of admirers equal to Portia's carnival in The Merchant of Venice, Dell Domnik is the next suitor at Louise's door as a homely Jewish barber named Cohen, "with a K," a kvetch, who, dreaming of her knickers, has a knack for kneading his head on her knackwurst. Armed with tonsorial snippets of cleverness and a lather of desire, Domnik's Yiddish tiger is a purrfect pussycat in disguise, though his meow is of variable ethnicity.

Finally, as Herr Klinglehoff, Pete Nelson looks right out of a Prussian officer's handbook, with his monocle, crisp pleats, gold-braided epaulets, and starched demeanor. When Louise, who by this time is thoroughly enjoying her risqué celebrity, shows him her storied frills, Nelson's blush is a masterstroke that sells his quaint propriety.

By the time the King arrives, we're ready for anything. Who would have thought that underneath it all, the affairs of state could be so much fun!

The Miners Alley Playhouse/Hunger Artists collaborative production of The Underpants runs through April 24th. 303-935-3044.

Bob Bows


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