THE UNDERPANTS, Sliced Bread Productions, at Live Bait Theater. For expressionist playwrights, plot is a formality, serving only to provide voices and a platform for social commentary. In this update of Carl Sternheim’s 1911 comedy, all of the action and conflict stem from a single event: a woman’s underpants fall off during a parade. In addition to provoking her husband’s rage, this incident attracts two strange men, one wealthy and dashing, the other poor and sickly. Both become obsessed with the beautiful panty lady and pose as boarders in need of the couple’s spare rooms. Throw in a voyeuristic spinster neighbor, and the stage is set–not only for romantic intrigue but for a humorous symposium on middle-class values, morality, and the idea of woman as property, nurturer, and romantic ideal.
Presenting this type of comedy to a modern audience is a challenge–the characters are stereotypes and the text is pedantic. Director-adapter Sid Feldman balances the cerebral script with a broad vaudevillian presentation: actors in clownish makeup deliver their lines straight to the audience, and nearly everything is punctuated by a snare drum or slide whistle. Visually the style is reinforced by a pastel, asymmetrical, rococo (think Ren & Stimpy) set. Funny thing is, it works: blending these distorted styles creates a balance between intelligent humor and well-executed slapstick. “Well executed” is the operative phrase–the actors show impeccable timing and amazing energy, particularly William Bullion as the man of the house and Fawn Nonaka as the lustful neighbor. –Kim Wilson