What happens when the great comic actor and banjo player Steve Martin adapts a 108-year-old German comedy called Die Hose? You get The Underpants, which plays out like an extended I Love Lucy episode.
The story begins right after a fateful royal parade, where sheltered young housewife Louise (played by Mary Claire Owen) accidentally drops her underpants. Louise’s stolidly mediocre husband Theo (played by James Malpino) fears that the accidental exposure will somehow ruin his career as a mid-level government bureaucrat. Instead, it draws two lusty tenants to rent a spare bedroom, providing the premise for all sorts of hilarious interactions. A nosy upstairs neighbor (played by Shana Brouwers), adds to the silliness by encouraging naive Louise to have an affair with the poetic interloper Versati (Glenn Heath). The other love-struck tenant is the gentle Cohen (Ernest Medina), who bears the brunt of a running joke about anti-Semitism.
If that sounds cringeworthy, that’s the point. It’s satire, although the satire might have hit harder when the original play debuted in 1910, or even when Martin’s adaptation premiered in 2002. The theme of an underemployed housewife finding odd ways to gain power in her marriage seems a little retrograde for the #metoo era. But then again, considering how women’s rights seem at constant danger of backsliding in this current political climate, perhaps it isn’t.
Director Chris Davies says Las Vegas Little Theatre’s board chose the play because it’s both entertaining and timely. He points out that the play touches on the issues of immigration reform and women’s rights. It does so without losing any laughs.
“The greatest joy is just watching the play come to life,” Davies says. “[The script is] very farcical—doors open and doors close, people are not aware, there are sausage jokes. It’s been a joy to watch different characters develop, to emphasize the jokes, put light in situations.”
The biggest challenge for Davies was casting. “Since it is a Steve Martin show, I had to find right the blend of improv and character development that would fit within a rigid time period. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Underpants isn’t the only adaptation at LVLT this fall. In the Black Box, Maxim Lardent is directing Stupid F*cking Bird (September 14-30), a 2013 adaptation by playwright Aaron Posner of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 play The Seagull. (Some local trivia: Posner sometimes collaborates with Teller of Penn & Teller fame on theatrical side-ventures).
Following the interlocking stories of a young director, a young actor, a renowned novelist and more, the play explores themes of art, love and revolution. In 2014, LA Weekly called it “the most authentic, self-aware, playful, pathos-filled, unassuming and world-wise adaptation of Chekhov [in two decades].”