Reading a play can often be like watching a movie with the mute onóthat
is, you miss out on a big part of the intended effect. Without
the actors and the scenery there to fill in the gaps, itís hard for a reader
to properly grasp the point, much less any intended humor. And if there are
historical and/or cultural boundaries, it can be nearly hopeless (Iím convinced
this is why so many people give up on Shakespeare in the ninth grade).
However, when a play is well-written, with good explanatory notes, and is carefully
adapted for a modern audience, reading it can be an enjoyable experience.
The Underpants, Steve Martinís new adaptation of a Carl Sternheim play,
is just such a case. Itís funny, itís farcical, itís fast-reading.
Although there may
be a few pages with only one laugh, most pages have several.
The story is, as the title suggests, about underwear, an incredibly risquť
subject for 1910 Germany, the storyís setting. Louise Maskeís underpants
fall down during a public parade for the king, something her clerk husband strongly
disapproves of. This act, though completely unintended, naturally has plenty
of consequences, drawn out in the rest of the play. The characters
are fresh and deftly drawn, their wits are quick, and the plot is full of twists
(if not downright twisted).
Although Iím not sure whether this is a perfect work, itís
certainly very accessible and enjoyable. I would love to see this play in productionóit
would be great to see it ďwith the sound on.Ē
If you're interested in more of Steve Martin's work, read my Shopgirl review.