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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

ACT Cast Really Gets into The Underpants

Also see our review of Company

The Underpants
Julie Briskman and Richard Ziman
ACT Theatre ends its homegrown regular slate of shows with an old-fashioned knee slapper farce, and it couldn't be more welcome. Steve Martin's jaunty adaptation of Carl Sternheim's The Underpants is ACT's only unabashed comedy in a season which leaned more toward darker matters, from The Pillowman to Miss Witherspoon to Mitzi's Abortion. This is not Steve Martin writing in his more subdued, contemplative style, such as was found in his book and screenplay Shopgirl. This is more what audiences expect from the man who established himself as "a wild and crazy guy" on TV, and with such films as The Jerk and The Man With Two Brains.

Audiences for ACT's production were predisposed to attend a show with Martin's name attached to it, as pre-opening ticket sales were brisk. The play is a tasty trifle. It is a thin but side-splitting tale of turn of the century housewife Louise, who attains celebrity after accidentally dropping her drawers in full view of the public, alarming her pompous, prudish bureaucratic spouse. With a spare room to rent, several of Louise's onlooker/admirers present themselves looking for lodging, and thanks to wily neighbor lady Gertrude's assistance Louise's stuffy but none too swift hubby Theo doesn't catch on to their amorous intentions. Director Kurt Beattie keeps the action whirling like a dervish through 100 laugh-laden minutes, and his perfect, buoyant cast keeps the laughs coming, without ever laying them on to thick.

Julie Briskman is an ideal Louise, initially mortified by the situation and browbeaten by her husband, then enjoying the attentions of her new beaus, and finally bemused when her unsolicited notoriety begins to fade. Richard Ziman masterfully embodies her blustery, scandal-fearing bully of a husband, who believes that a man may cheat on his wife but a wife shouldn't enjoy the same benefits. Matthew Floyd Miller is uproarious as the hilariously giddy, foppish artist Frank Versati, the first to come courting Louise's favor, and he is matched by David Pichette, in a welcome return to the kind of droll buffoonery he is so good at, in the role of Benjamin Cohen (who has to wackily conceal his Jewish heritage from Ziman's bigoted landlord). Marianne Owen is a droll delight as Gertrude, Louise's willing accomplice, who late in the action finds her friend's husband has taken a shine to her. As an odd old man and potential boarder named Klinglehoff, Wesley Rice earns many laughs with few lines but maximally effective posturing, eye-pops and double takes. The company has such a good time with Martin's light as a feather entertainment (in which he even takes a winking moment to sneer at people who do adaptations of others' plays) that it would be bad manners not to have as much fun in the audience as is being had onstage.

Scenic designer Carey Wong captures the interior of the couple's main living area with panache, and Mary Louise Geiger's lighting design is bright and cheerful, as are Marcia Dixcy Jory's costumes.  ACT is preparing to announce its 2007 season which it promises will be in a lighter vein than this year's ambitious but more cerebral one. If the laughs and smiles provoked by The Underpants are any indication, it's the right move!

The Underpants runs through November 12, 2006 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street in downtown Seattle. For more information visit ACT on-line at www.acttheatre.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion 



- David-Edward Hughes



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