The Underpants is a play adapted by Steve Martin from an early 1900s German work by Carl Sternheim — and the results are just as madcap as you might imagine. It’s currently being staged by Attic Salt Theatre Company as part of the Catalyst Series at N.C. Stage Company.
The 1910 German setting of the show predates much of the later historical context that we tend to associate with Germany. However, watching the show with that later context in mind only adds to the often dark and twisted humor.
Jim Wicker stars as the diligent, strict and very officious husband, Theo. He’s a lout, and has views that are so stunningly harsh by modern standards that the audience was brought to laughter by way of groans and booing. Theo revels in his tediously Germanic ways, and takes much of it out on his highly repressed wife, Louise.
Carin Metzger is the center of focus as Louise, who drove Theo into a panic over a scandalous moment during the King’s parade. It seems that, as Louise stood on a perch to wave to the king, her underpants came undone and dropped around her ankles. She quickly recovered, but not before being seen by Theo and perhaps many more people. At least that’s Theo’s fear, as he bemoans the potential end of his tedious middle-management job as a clerk in the king’s office.
It is important to note that the underpants in question are actually quite large, and decidedly unsexy. Nevertheless, such a thing invites scandal. It also attracts ravenous suitors, who follow Louise and attempt to rent out a room in her home to be closer to her.
Henry Williamson is the flamboyant poet Versati, who woos Louise with a passionate approach. Williamson gives Versati a wonderful flare that brings to mind a young Steve Martin (who might have written a bit of himself into the character). And then there’s Cohen, who also vies to be a renter. He’s a meek man, and a hypochondriac. It’s funny to see him try and sell himself to Theo as non-Jewish, offering that Cohen is spelled with a K, and later, after a slip up, that Kosher is spelled with a C. Italo Medelius-Marsano is spot-on as Cohen, and has more than one moment of pitch-perfect physical comedy.
Cary Nichols plays the nosy neighbor, Gertrude, who spends much of the show trying to help the heavily repressed Louise have a torrid affair with Versati. Elliot Weiner arrives late in the show, also to rent the room, as the German scientist Klinglehoff.
Director Jeff Catanese has assembled a wonderful cast and gives local audiences a fast-paced show full of laughs.
The Underpants continues its run at N.C. Stage through Sunday, July 5, with performances Wednesdays through Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays, at 2:30 p.m. $14-$28