Peggy Sue Dunigan

The Underpants

By - Mar 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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By Peggy Sue Dunigan

In 1910, when this play was written, “a glimpse of stocking was shocking” and ultimately humorous. On a weekend in 2007, the shock factor may be slightly removed but the comedy continues as RSVP Productions presents a 90-minute version of The Underpants.

Originally penned under the title Die Hose by Carl Sternheim, actor and comedian Steve Martin adapted the play, relieving the script of its more biting moments that had led the German government to originally ban the production. Martin infuses the original two acts with his own brand of sophisticated comedic timing and sexual innuendo while still retaining the commentary on class, feminism and fleeting fame.

The company’s decision to reduce the play to one act does leave some of the impact, in both comic and social interpretation, behind. But RSVP’s performance, especially the female characters, still connects with the audience. Kelly Simon as Louise is perfect as the pretty “housfrau” who causes a stir by exposing her stockings during a parade in the park. Suddenly Louise is famous for her faux pas, which understand upsets her working class husband, Theo (Ken T. Williams). A striking, if not frightening, similarity to the tabloids today that speak to Britney Spears, sans underwear. Two men who “glimpsed this shocking event” seek to rent a room in the couple’s apartment, wishing to woo Louise as their lover.

Louise’s friend and upstairs neighbor, Gertrude (Missy DeIrueste), encourages Louise in her newfound position of power and fashions even more exquisite underwear for her so she is able to optimize her options. DeIrueste’s role as Gertrude is reduced in this version, which is slightly dismaying as the two women, both in character and chemistry, create a strong presence when on stage. And the stage, for a small theatre company, sets the apartment of the German newlyweds quite appropriately giving added dimension to the production.

Considering the American appetite and appreciation for lingerie, several elements in this script’s premise remain completely believable on a stage today, although subtly eccentric. Martin’s adaptation, along with the RSVP production, always extends the humor, laughs and smiles with each line. Yet the play consistently reflects, perhaps even in a more timely fashion, on the nature of fame – creating celebrities for the moment concurrent with the public’s fascination for the minuteness of events. VS

The Underpants is presented by RSVP Productions in the Astor Theatre at the Brady Street Pharmacy, 1696 North Astor Street, through March 3: 414.278.0765 or

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