The Underpants, Noble Fool Theater Company. A woman’s underpants fall down during a civic parade, infuriating her husband and enrapturing two male spectators. They rent rooms in the couple’s house, hoping to seduce the flasher and delighting the voyeuristic spinster upstairs.
Carl Sternheim wrote this play in 1911 as a satire of the European bourgeoisie. But adapter Steve Martin–yes, that Steve Martin–scolds the audience less, concentrating more on the characters and love quadrangle. He also adds a feminist twist: the submissive wife’s brief fame gives her a sense of self-worth. Such smart human observations balance out some of the humor, “modernized” to an “I see London, I see France” level. One dinner discussion formerly centered on leg of lamb now opens with, “How would you like your wiener grilled?”
In both versions the actors must commit 110 percent to their absurd characters, which Karen Kessler’s cast does to varying degrees. Danny McCarthy as the husband is a German bulldog, a rock-solid poster child for comically misogynistic Aryan supremacy. Timothy Edward Kane as a fervent fop poet is his energetic foil. The other characters stick to type–horny spinster, hypochondriac Jew, constipated old man–which is OK for most of them. We need more, though, from Kathleen Logelin as the wife, the one character who’s transformed by the play’s events. Instead of changing from lazy cream puff to self-possessed woman, as the script suggests, Logelin merely shifts from easygoing to less easygoing–a metamorphosis that’s not nearly as satisfying