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Take a German expressionist play, run it through the comedic sensibility of Steve Martin, and what do you get?
You might get Martin’s adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s 1910 sociopolitical satire “Die Hose” (translated as “The Underpants”). The San Diego premiere runs through Sept. 30 at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
Set designer Marty Burnett’s wonderfully cockeyed set is a clue to what Martin calls the “ribald” plot about to unroll before your eyes.
It begins with balding Dusseldorf government bureaucrat Theo Maske (Matthew Henerson) berating his pretty, neglected young wife Louise (Holly Rone) for causing a scandal when her drawers unexpectedly went south as the King’s parade passed.
Theo sentences Louise to house arrest, during which she meets a few men who come to rent their spare bedroom (some have witnessed the morning’s incident).
The first is the charming and handsome poet Mr. Versati (Jacob Bruce), who names Louise his muse.
Another, the sickly barber Mr. Cohen (Omri Shein), has designs on her.
Nosy upstairs neighbor Gertrude (Clarinda Ross) encourages Louise to have an affair, offering to make two new pairs of bloomers – “one special and one very special.”
Sternheim’s satire of the German bourgeoisie – the characters are representative of their social class – becomes a sex farce in Martin’s hands (or at any rate, a sex talk farce). Some of it is crude, including some bathroom humor.
But all of it is wonderfully cast and played, and Mark Pinter’s fast-paced direction keeps it moving along.
Henerson is just right as bald and blustery civil servant Theo, the man who just wants to live inconspicuously.
Rone’s sweet but love-starved Louise is Theo’s opposite, longing for connection and reveling in the sudden attention she is getting.
Ross makes an impressive North Coast Rep debut as the busybody catalyst Gertrude, pushing Louise to play out her own fantasies.
Bruce is a hoot as terrible poet Versati (proud of his unpublished status); Schein his comic opposite as the paranoid barber Cohen.
Jonathan McMurtry makes the most of his small part as another boarder, the scientist Klinglehoff.
They talk about banjos here, but you never see them. The same is true of sex, but then this is 1910. “The Underpants” isn’t really naughty; it’s just a funny and wonderfully cast, directed and designed evening of theater.
“The Underpants” plays through Sept. 30 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.
Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
For tickets, call 858-481-1055 or visit ¬HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.