Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
That said, An Inspector Calls is the far better work, with its dizzying expressionistic staging and incisive performances, but Ives' bonbon with a bitter center is entertaining and a bit edifying. (They're also both brief, each running about 100 minutes with no intermission.)
The company and director Michael Kahn have staged several of Ives' delightful "translaptations" (updated verse reworkings of classic French comedies), but this production takes its inspiration (and its portentous subtitle, Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class) from three plays by the early 20th-century German playwright Carl Sternheim. The plays follow six spirited actors through the decades and generations of one family, assisted by Alexander Dodge's three character-filled sets on a single turntable. Frank Labovitz's costumes also speak for themselves, as do the wigs (designer not listed).
The first act, The Panties, introduces Joseph Mask (Carson Elrod) and his wife Louise (Kimberly Gilbert), a lower-middle-class couple in 1950 Boston (designed, per Ives' suggestion, to resemble the Kramdens' grim, colorless home in "The Honeymooners"). Joseph is anxious about money and keeping his job, Louise is frustrated in several senses, and they've just returned from a July 4 parade where an elastic malfunction caused Louise's white panties to fall to her ankles in public. Joseph is humiliated, but the timely arrival of two strangers, an aristocratic poet (Tony Roach) and a nebbishy barber (Kevin Isola), provides opportunities from which both he and Louise can benefit. (If the setup sounds familiar, Steve Martin earlier adapted this play as The Underpants.)
The second act, The Partner, picks up the story in an expensively paneled New York City office in 1987. Joseph and Louise's son Christian (Isola), a stockbroker, will do anything to secure a partnership in his firm, including sex, disavowing his déclassé parents, advantageous marriage, and (accidental) homicide.
Ives moves the action to "tomorrow morning" in the third act, The Profit, as Christian's self-absorbed daughter Louise (Gilbert) ponders life in her expensive home on the California coast. Unfamiliar people keep showing up, Louise's corporate-shark sister Ursula (Turna Mete) has undergone a personality crisis, and the end of the world might just be imminent. A few images recur from one act to the next: sightings of an enormous sea snake in various parts of the world; clocks stuck at a specific moment in time; a dueling pistol that, according to one character, was once used by Aaron Burr (Christian's boss is Mr. Hamilton); and an unworn pair of red panties.
Shakespeare Theatre Company