Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Panties, The Partner and The Profit:
Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Gem of the Ocean, Indecent, and The Second City: She the People


Kimberly Gilbert
Photo by Carol Rosegg
The biggest surprise of David Ives' The Panties, The Partner and The Profit, now at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre in Washington, is how—despite its farcical elements—the work has the same underlying theme as the company's other current production, An Inspector Calls. In both plays, everyone is connected to everyone else, sometimes unknowingly or unacknowledged, and they have to work together or their world will collapse.

That said, An Inspector Calls is the far better work, with its dizzying expressionistic staging and incisive performances, but Ives' bonbon with a bitter center is entertaining and a bit edifying. (They're also both brief, each running about 100 minutes with no intermission.)

The company and director Michael Kahn have staged several of Ives' delightful "translaptations" (updated verse reworkings of classic French comedies), but this production takes its inspiration (and its portentous subtitle, Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class) from three plays by the early 20th-century German playwright Carl Sternheim. The plays follow six spirited actors through the decades and generations of one family, assisted by Alexander Dodge's three character-filled sets on a single turntable. Frank Labovitz's costumes also speak for themselves, as do the wigs (designer not listed).

The first act, The Panties, introduces Joseph Mask (Carson Elrod) and his wife Louise (Kimberly Gilbert), a lower-middle-class couple in 1950 Boston (designed, per Ives' suggestion, to resemble the Kramdens' grim, colorless home in "The Honeymooners"). Joseph is anxious about money and keeping his job, Louise is frustrated in several senses, and they've just returned from a July 4 parade where an elastic malfunction caused Louise's white panties to fall to her ankles in public. Joseph is humiliated, but the timely arrival of two strangers, an aristocratic poet (Tony Roach) and a nebbishy barber (Kevin Isola), provides opportunities from which both he and Louise can benefit. (If the setup sounds familiar, Steve Martin earlier adapted this play as The Underpants.)

The second act, The Partner, picks up the story in an expensively paneled New York City office in 1987. Joseph and Louise's son Christian (Isola), a stockbroker, will do anything to secure a partnership in his firm, including sex, disavowing his déclassé parents, advantageous marriage, and (accidental) homicide.

Ives moves the action to "tomorrow morning" in the third act, The Profit, as Christian's self-absorbed daughter Louise (Gilbert) ponders life in her expensive home on the California coast. Unfamiliar people keep showing up, Louise's corporate-shark sister Ursula (Turna Mete) has undergone a personality crisis, and the end of the world might just be imminent. A few images recur from one act to the next: sightings of an enormous sea snake in various parts of the world; clocks stuck at a specific moment in time; a dueling pistol that, according to one character, was once used by Aaron Burr (Christian's boss is Mr. Hamilton); and an unworn pair of red panties.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Panties, The Partner and The Profit: Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class
December 4th, 2018 - January 6th, 2019
By David Ives, inspired by the work of Carl Sternheim
The Panties (adapted from Sternheim's Die Hose)
Joseph Mask: Carson Elrod
Louise Mask: Kimberly Gilbert
Trudy Reezner: Julia Coffey
Jock Revere: Tony Roach
Benjamin Mandelshtam: Kevin Isola
A Young Woman: Turna Mete
The Partner (freely adapted from Sternheim's Der Snob)
Christian Mask: Kevin Isola
Sybil Rittenhouse: Julia Coffey
William Hamilton: Tony Roach
Joseph Mask: Carson Elrod
Louise Mask: Kimberly Gilbert
Milly Hamilton: Turna Mete
The Profit (suggested by Sternheim's 1913)
Louise Mask: Kimberly Gilbert
Jack Revere: Tony Roach
Joe Jones: Carson Elrod
Ursula Mask: Turna Mete
Omega: Julia Coffey
Rabbi Mandelshtam: Kevin Isola
Directed by Michael Kahn
Harman Center for the Arts, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org


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