Steve Martin’s humor shines through The Underpants, now playing at North Coast Rep in Solana Beach
By Diana Saenger
The North Coast Repertory Theatre’s 31st season opened Saturday with “The Underpants,” drawing raves and one laugh after another. Comedian Steve Martin adapted the turn-of-the- century German farce by Carl Sternheim. It centers on a young married woman, who as she stretches up tall to see the King pass by in a parade, tightens her waist muscles. This causes her underwear to fall down around her ankles. Scandalous!
And that’s what Louise Maske’s (Holly Rone) husband, Theobald Maske (Matthew Henerson), thinks. He rants and raves and belittles Louise every minute. She can’t cook correctly … she’s a poor housekeeper. Theo demands that Louise stay at home so as not to embarrass him anymore and jeopardize his government job. With every complaint Henerson unfurls, there’s another round of laughs that follows.
From the minute Rone steps on stage as Louise to express her anxiety about what happened, she has the audience in her hands. Louise takes Theo’s verbal abuse like a guard at Buckingham Palace. His tart words seem to fly by her. Yet inside, the repressed Louise has rebellious feelings and yearns to break free and become sexually alive.
She gets that opportunity when two potential renters show up looking for a room after witnessing Louise’s fall from modesty. Ben (Omri Schein) and Frank (Jacob Bruce) profess they are in love with Louise. They reveal their dreams of sleeping with her. The words she hears from Frank, a poet, are the ones she has longed to hear from her husband. Ben is such a neurotic mess; it’s impossible for Louise not care for him, as well. Schein and Bruce are so adept at portraying their eccentric characters, it’s as if Martin handpicked them to explicitly deliver the laughs.
When Louise admits to her nosy upstairs neighbor, Gertrude (Clarinda Ross), that she has two suitors; Gertrude promises to prep Louise on how to have an affair. Actually it’s Gertrude who longs to be loved, but is willing fulfill her desires vicariously through Louise. Ross, a film and TV star, creates an interesting and waggish personality in Gertrude, and is the perfect sidekick.
The character of Klingle- hoff does not have much stage time, but played by veteran actor Jonathan McMurtry, there’s a treasure in every moment.
Direction by Mark Pinter is clearly superb, and the set design by Marty Burnett is fantastic. Set in Dusseldorf, the apartment looks like a place where Hansel and Gretel would live. It’s fun to just gaze around at the crooked railings and slanted shelves, and wonder if Theo will ever get over his fascination with the Loch Ness Monster.
If you go
■ What: ‘The Underpants’
■ When: Matinees, evenings, through Sept. 30
■ Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
■ Tickets: $37-$54 ■ Phone:
■ Website: northcoastrep.org
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