Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Underpants
The Old Globe
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

Regina De Vera and Luis Vega
Photo by Jim Cox
The Old Globe and writer/performer Steve Martin have developed a close relationship. The Globe has produced the world premiere of both Mr. Martin's musical Bright Star and his play Meteor Shower, as well as a revival of his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Now, the company is reviving Mr. Martin's intellectual farce The Underpants, an adaptation of Carl Sternheim's 1910 play Die Hose. Bright Star's director Walter Bobbie returns with a faithful production that may or may not delight contemporary audiences.

Louise Maske (Regina De Vera), a young housewife, creates a cause célèbre when a "wardrobe malfunction" results in her underwear falling to her ankles during a parade for the King (Kris Zarif). Her bureaucrat husband Theo (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is mortified, fearing his performance as a government employee will be judged by his wife's faux pas.

Strangely, though, three men suddenly appear to compete for a room that the Maskes have for rent. They are Frank Versati (Luis Vega), a poet and something of a dandy, Benjamin Cohen (Michael Bradley Cohen), a businessman, and Klinglehoff (Jeff Blumenkrantz), an older, slow-moving, gentleman.

As it turns out, all three have come because they were present when Louise's malfunction happened. Two of them want to start affairs with her, and, truth be told, Klinglehoff probably does as well. Louise is excited about this prospect, as she confesses to Gertrude Deuter (Joanna Glushak), her upstairs neighbor. Her reason: she is inexperienced. Theo has been withholding sexual relations, saying they can't afford to have a child.

Much like showing how one's underpants becomes a sexual tease, Mr. Martin teases his dialogue with puns and innuendo, all of which seem intended to lead to sexual trysts that are longed for but never happen (1910 Bavaria is a very conservative society, and Theo reflects it: he's misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and probably several other things).

Mr. Bobbie's production teases as well: John Lee Beatty's scenic design features several doors (slamming doors are a trademark of farce), yet the doors disappear as the play begins, never to reappear. Mr. Beatty also paints the Maske floor in bright, "party," colors, which is complemented by Philip S. Rosenberg's colorful lighting design and contrasted by Alejo Vietti's tweedy costumes. Nevin Steinberg's sound design features many clever sound effects, as well as contemporary party music at both the beginning and end of the show. Unfortunately, the cleverness doesn't extend to miking actors' voices in the White Theatre's in-the-round configuration. Diction tended to wax and wane as actors turned toward or away from various sections of the audience at the performance I attended.

Both Maskes turn out to be unsympathetic (Louise because of her annoying naiveté, Theo because of his lockstep dogmatism), so it becomes contingent on the supporting characters to make the story interesting. Each tries. As Gertrude the neighbor, Ms. Glushak succeeds best by projecting how Gertrude longs to be as in demand as Louise. Mr. Vega comes in a close second with the energy created by his poetic swirls and fancy clothes. Mr. Cohen is hampered by Benjamin's perceived need to hide that he is Jewish (with all of the rhetorical dodging and weaving incumbent therein). Mr. Blumenkrantz has one joke to play. He plays it well, but it is still just one joke. Mr. Zarif has a brief appearance, and his function is to provide the play's denouement.

All of this teasing may titillate the audience (or at least get them laughing), or it may not. Part of the dilemma is that 2019 is not 2002, when the play debuted. The world has changed, attitudes have changed. What might have been acceptable as a depiction of 1910 society in 2000 may be frowned upon in 2019.

I may worry unnecessarily. As per usual with productions of Mr. Martin's work, The Underpants is in high demand and its run has already been extended to September 1. The trick to enjoying, I think, is to savor the tease, especially Mr. Martin's abundant literary jokes, and not to think too hard about any implicit societal implications.

The Underpants, through September 1, 2019, at The Old Globe, Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego CA. Performances are Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7pm, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are available by calling 619-23-GLOBE (234-5623), or by visiting