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UNDERPANTS, THE Paperback – Bargain Price, November 20, 2002
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Adapting Carl Sternheim's sociopolitical farce from 1910 into a wildly burlesque romp appealing to a modern audience, actor/writer Steve Martin drops Sternheim's dated political satire and stresses instead the absurdity of instant fame and the unexpected opportunities it presents to people such as Louise Maske. The result might be termed an "anti-bedroom" farce, since the various sexual pairings and recombinations of characters which develop during this play, some of them devoutly wished for, remain outside the bedroom.
The Maskes have an extra bedroom in their apartment, and they quickly find themselves almost overrun with candidates who want to rent it after Louise's "episode." Versati, a poet, sees Louise as his muse, and he is anxious to have an affair with her (and she, with him), but after she rents the room to him, she discovers that Theo has also rented it to the sickly Benjamin Cohen, a barber who is willing to walk a long distance to his job, just so he can be in the presence of Louise. The room is subdivided, with each person paying almost full rent. In subsequent action, Louise's friend Gertrude gives Louise sexual advice while she also creates a newer, more beautiful set of undergarments for Louise. Two new characters appear, and several new opportunities for liaisons arise.Read more ›
The play is really about bored housewife Louise Maske, who is at a parade to see the king when her underpants fall down to her ankles. The event scandalizes her boorish husband Theo, who frets over what this could mean to his piddly job.
In no time, however, a couple smitten men who happened to witness the event turn up to try to rent out the single room, in hopes of getting closer to Louise. She finds herself taken with the idea of an affair with charismatic poet Versati, but sickly, lovesick Cohen keeps getting in their way.
What follows is an apparent comedy of errors, but either these particular issues don't translate well to the 2000s or, more likely, Martin's words meant for the stage don't necessarily translate well to the page.
Unless one is a diehard Martin fan, there's no reason to sift through the play over and over in order to appreciate it (although multiple readings do help). It's more bland than bad, though. But nothing of the quality of Martin's other works, like "Shopgirl" or the fantastic "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." Not even of his Academy Award hosting stints. (Remember the line "I took a 9-year-old kid to see 'Gladiator,' and he cried through the entire film. But maybe it's because he didn't know who I was."?)
In fact, there's really only one time it is certain that Martin is in the house, when Gertrude, Louise's busybody neighbor, announces that she has just come from the theater, to see a play by Sternheim.
Louise: "Should I see it?"
Gertrude: "Wait till it's adapted."
The play itself is very funny and retains enough of the "Old World" flavor to make it a unique piece of work when combined with the sensibilities of a sharp-witted writer like Martin. There were short sequences where the "old" Steve Martin humor snuck out, but overall he was very careful to present a new side of his taste that is as different from his other plays as his more recent films have been from his stand-up.
Louise, stretching on her tiptoes to get a better view of the King, has her underpants drop to the floor. Her husband, Theo, is scandalized, but the story revolves around the other men who witnessed this event, who try hard to get Louise to provide a second performance in her own home.
This is a comedy piece, through and through, although there are hints of the times with anti-Semitism ("That's Cohen with a K"), disparate gender roles, and sexual repression. Given the publicity associated with "wardrobe malfunctions" today, the story reflects culture's continuing interest in those "brief peeks" (pun intended).
I think it would be a blast to see this play in production. I missed my chance during the 2002-03 season of the Manoa Valley Theatre. And now that I've read the screenplay, I can sense that it would have been a hoot.
The Underpants, published in 2002 by Hyperion, is an attractive and well-constructed book, and it will give you a good sense of what to expect in a performance.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
WONDERFULLY FUNNY PLAY. I WAS DIRECTED IN IT 8 YEARS AGO, AND I WUILL BE DIRECTING IT THIS SUMMER IN FRESNO AND WILL RECREATE MY ROLE AS THE CURMUDGEONLY PROFESSOR KLINGHOFF.Published on February 23, 2014 by Gerald Palladino
If you like penis jokes this is for you. Not for me. We had contemplated this for a community theater production. Not any more.Published on October 26, 2013 by Paul E. Hemmer
The Underpants is a 1910 play written by Carl Sternheim. Mr. Martin has re-written it in an attempt to turn it from a farce into a broad comedy. Read morePublished on August 21, 2012 by P. M. Bradshaw
I had to buy this play for a drama class, and although I'm not very fond of reading, I found this quite entertaining. It is definitely worth picking up and reading!Published on July 1, 2011 by alyssa
Steve Martin is such a marvelous writer. This was such a quick & entertaining read. Lots of LOLs!Published on October 9, 2009 by Jenniejam
I wanted this book for a class and received it within 3 days...speedy delivery! Hilarious adaptation of a older German play written by Carl Sternheim. Read morePublished on November 2, 2008 by Jennifer Justice
If you're like me you stopped reading plays after high school or college english, and for good reason, they stunk. Read morePublished on August 30, 2007 by J. Baldwin