THE UNDERPANTS, now playing at The Old Globe through September 8th, based on the 1911 comedy from Carl Sternheim, and then adapted by Steve Martin in 2008 shows how far comedy has come and how far we still have to go. Alas, even with a charming and talented cast and the comedic pedigree of Martin the play feels tone deaf and outdated for current times.
Standouts for the show include the charming and vibrant Regina De Vera as Louise, a scene with fantastic physical comedy by Michael Bradley Cohen, Joanna Glushak as the nosey upstairs neighbor Gertrude, and gorgeous costumes by Alejo Vietti. Unfortunately, this is where the play takes a turn into juvenile humor, old fashioned sexist attitudes, double entendre, and anti-Semitism.
The title event really happens before the show even starts; you see Louise (Regina De Vera), a young wife stood on a bench in the park to catch a glimpse of the King’s parade that is going by. While standing there her underwear fell to her ankles. Even though her dress goes to the very tops of her toes, and she is sure no one saw her, she quickly gets down, retrieves her wayward bloomers “like lightning” she says and goes home.
The play starts with her husband Theo (Eddie Kaye Thomas), a government peon, berating her and worrying that this news is going to somehow cost him his job. Even though there has been some gossip Louise is still sure that nothing will come from it. Their upstairs neighbor Gertrude (Joanna Glushak) puts that dream to an end as she assures Louise that the whole thing was “announced at the train station.”
Suddenly, the room that the couple had been trying to rent has two potential renters; Frank Versati (Luis Vega) a poet, and Benjamin Cohen (Michael Bradley Cohen) a barber, even though they both acknowledge that it is not in any way a convenient location for their work. Instead it is because they are both overcome with desire of Louise after hearing about the underpants, and proceed to use every opportunity they have alone with her to pursue her whether it’s welcome or not.
Versati is a pursuant who has more romance in his soul (he is a poet after all), so Gertrude encourages Louise to have an affair with him. Cohen is the more obnoxious about his rivalry with Versati declaring “If I can’t have you, neither will he.”
Theo is a dull and neglectful husband to Louise in all matter of duties, and says things to her like “Thank god your sluttishness had no consequences.” Why she hasn’t left him before now I don’t know.
It’s no surprise that with a husband like Theo that Louise is so starved for any attention that she blossoms like a plant getting a few drops of water.
The entire play and these three men place the burden for their desires, hopes, and dreams on Louise and her underpants incident without any regard or acknowledgement of their own personal responsibility or her thoughts and feelings. I was waiting for Louise to wake up and walk out on all of them à la Nora in THE DOLL’S HOUSE.
The play is supposed to be a look at fame and the consequences thereof, but unfortunately it just seems to be a reminder that what was funny in 1911, or even in 2008 isn’t funny now. It seems for comedy, like underwear, keeping up with frequent changes is better for everyone.
THE UNDERPANTS is playing at The Old Globe through September 8th. Ticket and show time information is available at www.theoldglobe.org