Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Tuesdays with Morrie
The Underpants is an adaptation of a 1910 Carl Sternheim farce, Die Hose. Martin stays reasonably close to the original vis a vis setting and social mores, but since he is one of the greatest comedians of his generation and possibly history, there are more than a few laugh out loud lines. In the end what we have is a farce with an undercurrent of social commentary, a nice combination.
The production belongs to director Michele Strauss, new to me and The Players Centre, but not the area. She is a talent to be watched. Her sense of physical comedy is extraordinary, and she gets superior performances from all her actors, including one whom I have in the past found mostly tepid. She also contributes a few directorial insights, such as making Gertrude Deuter, the upstairs neighbor, reminiscent of Ethel Mertz to heroine Louise Maske's sort of Lucy as in "I Love Lucy." Ms. Strauss is clearly the MVP of this production.
Many of the actors in this cast appeared together in last year's production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which was not directed by Ms. Strauss, but almost all also list previous credits with her. The chemistry built over time shows. Jim Floyd is terrifically energetic playing the rather staid government clerk, Theo Maske. Aden Russel gives a nice account of Louise, Theo's wife of one year, bringing great presence to the role. The only thing lacking is the ability to play a very young wife, but perhaps the emotional requirements of the part preclude that youth.
Scott Ehrenpreis is Versati, one of two people, oops make that three, who come to rent a room but in reality have romantic interest in Louise. I kept thinking about a line from a song in Lerner and Lowe's Brigadoon: "A poet only writes about the things he cannot do." Ehrenpreis is extremely funny, but could allow himself to go over the top just a bit more. Joshua Brin as the other suitor/renter, Benjamin Cohen ("that's Cohen with a 'k'..."), stops the show with a physical tour de force in act two. As he was exiting the stage the audience burst into spontaneous applause at the performance I attended.
Ronda Hewitt makes much more of Gertrude than is actually in the script, courtesy of director Strauss; she is a major comic gem of an actress. Charlie Tyler as the third, but much less important, border/suitor is costumed to remind us of Buster Keaton and pulls off the droll persona of that legendary comedian. Chuck Conlon appears in the thankless role of the King.
Staging elements at Players productions have been seriously shortchanged in the past, but this one is a major step in the right direction, with a quite decent set by Ken Junkins and period costumes and wigs by Georgina Willmott and Andrea Bloom. Sound design by Josh Linderman and props by Matt Neiler and Diane Cepeda contribute to a production that rises to new heights within this series.
The Underpants runs through October 20, so hurry to Backstage at the Players for a laugh riot.
The Underpants runs through October 20, 2019, at The Players Centre for Performing Arts, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-365-2494 or visit www.theplayers.org.
Cast: Theo Maske: Jim Floyd