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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER The Underpants
by MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
2003-09-17

This article shared 3386 times since Wed Sep 17, 2003
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Playwright: adapted by Steve Martin from the play by Carl Sternheim

At: The Noble Fool Theater,

Phone: (312) 726-1156; $33-$44

Runs through: Oct. 18

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At work, Theobald Maske is a mouse, but at home, he is a pig—a selfish, bigoted bully who belittles his meek and loving wife at every opportunity. An incident is soon to alter that dynamic, however—not only for the unhappy couple, but the agents who figure in their rehabilitation as well. The incident occurs at a royal parade, when Louise Maske, straining for a glimpse of the monarch, has her bloomers accidentally drop—an understandible mishap in the days before elastic cord and snap-fasteners.

Steve Martin's adaptation of Carl Sternheim's bitter 1911 diatribe on German middle-class hypocrisy reflects the optimism we Yankees can't seem to abandon (cf. Neil Simon's The Good Doctor). Theo's misanthropy and Louise's submission stem from poverty, his meager salary forcing them to delay starting a family (hardship, indeed, with no contraceptive but abstinence) and to rent the spare rooms in their house. Marital stress is what tempts Louise to adultery as three very different men clamor to lease apartments in the home of the woman whose lingerie will become a nationwide rallying banner for sexual liberation and individual recognition.

The 1993 Picasso At The Lapin Agile established Martin's reputation for slyly juxtaposing lofty pronouncements with buffoonish double-entendres. Director Karen Kessler deftly navigates this paradoxical path, rendering even the 'dumb' jokes smart (as when a passionate poet declares something to be 'barbaric' and an indignant hairdresser protests, 'How dare you insult barbers?'). Playing the naive Louise, Kathleen Logelin is the picture of spunk and sweetness, flanked by Meighan Gerachis as the enabling neighbor Gertrude, Timothy Edward Kane—whose body-language is superlative—as the libidinous Versati, Jimmie Meader as the hypochondriac Cohen (spelled with a 'k,' he assures his antisemitic host) and Jack Bronis as the prudish Herr Klinglehoff.

Danny McCarthy plays Theo as a distracted workaholic—a decision that somewhat softens the character's fundamental contemptibility. But if the good fortune that accompanies his comeuppance strikes us as undeserved, we heartily applaud the moment when, having discovered Cohen to be Jewish, Theo commends him on being 'unrepresentative of your group,' only to be assured by that soft-spoken individual, 'But YOU, Herr Maske, are certainly representative of YOURS.'

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