Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: The Underpants

Posted By on Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 10:55 AM

Steve Martin and I go way back.

No, I've never met him, but over the last 30-some years, I've followed his career so closely that I almost feel like I have. I saw the movies. Caught the Saturday Night Live gigs. Dork alert: I even bought a copy of his "King Tut" single back when a song took up as much space as a pie plate.

Louise (Erin King) accepts a scandalous gift from Gertrude (Jillmarie Peterson)
  • David Shaver
  • Louise (Erin King) accepts a scandalous gift from Gertrude. (Jillmarie Peterson)

So I couldn't wait to check out Springs Ensemble Theatre's production of The Underpants, the Wild and Crazy Guy's adaptation of a 1910 German play by Carl Sternheim.

It's not as brilliantly creative as Martin's better-known play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile. But it does show its own kind of brilliance, straddling what is normally a very wide line between satire and farce. And the SET production, briskly directed by Sarah Sheppard Shaver, is one of the funniest shows I've seen all season, even if the acting's a little uneven.

The show marks a new era for the young theater company. Set in 1910 Dusseldorf, The Underpants is SET's first true period piece. And the ensemble's gone all out, draping actors in a colorful kaleidoscope of costumes by Jillmarie Peterson and filling space with an intimately detailed set by Max Ferguson. The faded walls and bland landscape paintings practically reek with bourgeois smugness.

The story centers on Louise, the young, sexually frustrated wife of an overbearing bureaucrat named Theo. As the play begins, the pair have just rushed home after Louise dropped her drawers — accidentally, of course — at the exact moment the king was passing by.

"Thank God your sluttishness has had no consequence!" the humiliated Theo declares.

But as they're about to discover, her simple act yields nothing but consequence.

Erin King plays Louise, and while she brings an appealing innocence to the role, I felt her performance was way too deliberate. It seemed like she was putting all her effort into recreating the correct expression and gesture at each moment, instead of letting them flow naturally from the situation.

Cohen (Emory John Collinson) makes an uncharacteristic move on Louise
  • David Shaver
  • Cohen (Emory John Collinson) makes an uncharacteristic move on Louise.

SET co-founder Steve Emily is Theo. I've been a fan of Emily's work for a long time, but I think he goes in the wrong direction here. Theo's chauvinistic rants are some of the best lines in the play, yet in the performance I saw, they didn't always get the laughs they deserved because they were delivered too straight. I'm thinking a more bombastic or bumbling approach might help.

It's the secondary cast that really nails the humor in the piece. Oscar Robinson wields a rakish charm as Versati, an amorous poet who becomes obsessed with Louise after witnessing her very public indiscretion. He follows her home and, when he learns that Theo is looking for a lodger, promptly takes the room for the sole purpose of seducing Louise right under her husband's nose.

Versati meets his surprising match in Cohen, a sickly, sniveling barber as intent on protecting Louise's virtue as he is on hiding his Jewishness. ("That's Cohen with a K!") In the role, Emory John Collinson shows a real gift for physical comedy, especially when, in the spirit of the best farces, he inadvertently downs an entire bottle of sleeping potion.

I also enjoyed the multi-talented Peterson (see costumes above) as a chatty, man-hungry neighbor who first persuades Louise to entertain Versati's advances.

Oh, and I have to give a shout-out to "newcomer" Rigby Riordan, a last-minute replacement who played a surprise visitor to regal perfection. I've never heard of Riordan, but I've got a funny feeling I've seen him somewhere before ... and you may have that feeling, too, if you've seen some theater in this town.

The Underpants
May 31-June 17, Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m.
Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache la Poudre
Tickets: $15; call 357-3080 or visit springsensembletheatre.org.

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