The Underpants at Hubris Productions | Theater review
Hubris emphasizes the broadest bits in Steve Martin’s curious adaptation of a century-old farce.
You could make the argument that erstwhile wild and crazy guy Martin is his generation’s James Franco, penning novels about the art world and playing bluegrass at Bonnaroo. Martin’s extracurricular activities include forays into playwriting: His comedy Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which premiered at Steppenwolf in 1993, has achieved chestnut status.
More curious is The Underpants, Martin’s 2002 adaptation of a 1910 farce by German scribe Sternheim. The play opens on uptight Theo Maske (Jack Birdwell), fulminating over the embarrassing event that’s just taken place as he and his wife, Louise (Jessica Maynard), were attending a parade: As she stood on tiptoe to see the king pass by, Louise’s bloomers briefly fell down. Priggish civil servant Theo is convinced the scandal will cost him his job; Louise reassures him that no one saw. But at least two men did; both of them—self-regarding poet Versati (Josh Nordmark) and hypochondriac barber Cohen (Jeremy Cohn)—soon show up seeking to rent the Maskes’ spare room as an in toward seducing Louise. The attention awakens a new lust in Louise, who’s egged on by her equally nosy and horny upstairs neighbor (Calidonia Olivares).
Sternheim’s reported aim was to prick the mores of the monolithic German bourgeoisie; Martin’s is less clear. The implicit questioning of prevailing sexual attitudes and a smattering of literary references suggest something high-minded, but the bulk of his approach—particularly in Jadhwani’s broad, brash production—is more lowbrow. Hubris’s young cast tends to emphasize volume and wacky voices, save the open-faced Maynard, whose modulation seems out of place among her shouty castmates.