Having been a longtime fan of both the brilliant logic and incisive goofiness embedded in the legacy of comedian & author Steve Martin’s work, I had the pleasure to interview him last summer in advance of his performance in Midland with his bluegrass band.
After writing screenplays, acting in movies, conquering comedy, and logging respectability as a top-rate author and musician, I asked if there was anything he had not tackled creatively that he might like to take a stab at. His response? A Broadway musical. (Hopefully if he ever attempts this it will be more evolved than ‘Batman’. But gauging by the performance of his play ‘The Underpants’ at Pit & Balcony Theatre, it would decidedly be a welcome addition to his ‘oeuvre’ of creativity.
The Underpants, adapted by Steve Martin and based on the 1910 German play Die Hose by Carl Sternheim, is a very funny and intelligent play about a woman whose underpants accidentally fall down during the King’s parade. That the setting and context is set over 100 years ago and still comes off as current, fresh, and contemporary is a testament to both Martin’s abilities as well as that of this top-notch cast, which consisted of Liz Williams in the role of Gertrude, Paul Lutenske as Klingelhoff, Jay Glysz as Cohen, Alex Alexandrou as Theo, Mary Lee as Louise, and Michael Curtis as Versati.
The play began with high energy humor and Alex Alexandrou did a first rate job capturing the stuffy old-world moral rigidity of Theo, the husband of the aforementioned woman having difficulty keeping her underpants in one place. He very much warmed into the character and was a delight to watch. His pent-up energy, his German accent and his commitment to the character were strong and grounded.
Mary Lee played the central character of Louise with a muted grace and ability that blossomed with revelation as she became confronted with the characters appearing at her doorstep because of her indiscretion. The character was three-dimensional and she allowed us to root for her throughout the whole show. Liz Williams had an excellent role as Gertrude and played it to the full. Michael Curtis was delightful as the poetic Versati, and Paul Lutenske was pitch perfect as Klinglehoff – but Jay Glysz as Cohen was a real standout for me. He played this part in a beautifully understated way, and I thought his comic timing was perfect.
It really was an ensemble piece – the whole cast was strong and very much in touch with their physicality on the stage, which I find is something often forgotten in plays.
The show is clever and entertaining, and it touches on aspects of sexuality, sexism, fidelity, art and fame in ways that are very relevant to our society. I found the discussion between the husband and the poet on how to define a man as particularly interesting dialogue and superbly delivered by the actors. Much the same where the character of Louise realizes it is fame that she misses, in a way that seems to parallel much of the 15-minute wonders we are subjected to in today’s world.
Robin Devereaux-Nelson is clearly a strong director and the piece really picked up the pace as the show continued. Attendance was at capacity the Saturday that I attended and kudos goes out to Pit & Balcony for bringing this incredible comedy to the Saginaw stage.