“Theobald Maske has an unusual problem: his wife’s underpants won’t stay on.”
So reads the introduction to “The Underpants,” a comedic farce that will be staged by the EWU Theatre Department in November. Adapted by Steve Martin, “The Underpants” follows a conservative German couple whose bourgeois life is irrevocably altered by the aforementioned wardrobe malfunction.
The source material for “The Underpants” is a play entitled “Die Hose,” written by German playwright Carl Sternheim in 1910. Sternheim was part of the German Expressionist movement, in which artists began producing incisive and socially critical work in response to their growing disillusionment with historical German imperialism and social conservatism.
“That play was one of the [earliest] examples of comedic expressionism,” said director and Associate
Professor of Theatre Sara Goff. “Deeper social themes and [commentary]. It [looked] at fame, our obsessions that we get ourselves into, those underlying social issues.”
“This [adaptation] does look at underlying social issues, but not in [such] a deep way,” she said. “Some of that social angst is lost and we’re just left with the playful stuff, the broad physical comedy. It’s Steve Martin, [after all].”
Goff described the initial scene. “There’s a parade, the king is coming through town, [Louise Maske]’s standing on tiptoe to see, stretching upwards, and her underpants fall down. And oops. It’s this big scandalous thing,” she said. “It pokes fun at human foibles. … [It] talks a lot about things that would normally make us [blush and] say, ‘Oh gosh.’”
“Tremendous healing comes through comedy,” she said. “We have this tendency to blow small things out of proportion and then forget them five seconds later. [‘The Underpants’ is] a good opportunity to put aside our differences and just laugh about the things that unite us in our human experience, to not take ourselves so seriously.”
Goff explained how “The Underpants” fits into the theater schedule over the long term. “This is not a really gritty intellectual piece like ‘In the Next Room’ or ‘The Things They Carried.’ We’re moving away from realism into style. It’s physical comedy: double-takes, pratfalls, quick repartee, wordplay, jokes, all the stuff that Steve Martin is … known for,” she said. “Last year we did a lot of trading with tragedy, drama, contemporary drama. As performers, we need [this] experience … with farce. The audience needs it too.”
Martin Sanks and Chris Hansen, both of whom have been cast as supporting characters for “The Underpants,” agreed.
“Everyone assumes comedy is a soft subject, that anybody can do it,” said Sanks. “[But] it’s extremely difficult to do well. You could communicate the wrong things … The audience might not [get it]. It takes a lot of discipline and practice.”
“People won’t want to pass this up,” Hansen said. “Expect a night [of] … laugh-out-loud … comedy filled with innuendo. The [entire] cast will … [bring] laughs and fun to this performance.”
Sanks added that although working on a play of this caliber can be nerve-wracking, he has high hopes for the final performances.
“It’s a wonderful and amazing experience. Stepping into that theater is like stepping into another dimension, … a whole other plane,” he said. “After every rehearsal, we leave dying of laughter. Lots of hard work is going into this. Everyone is hilarious, and worth their salt [as an actor].”
“Come to the show. You will want to see this show.”
Goff also talked about some of the other theater offerings of the 2012-2013 season. During winter quarter, the department will stage “Ode,” an original play written by Jonathan Johnson, who is a member of Eastern’s creative writing program. “Ode” is about the life of English poet John Keats and his relationship with Fanny Brawne.
The spring play is “Bat Boy: The Musical.” “Bat Boy,” which Goff describes as a “musical comedy slash horror show,” follows the story of a half bat/half boy creature who is found in a cave in West Virginia, and whose origins both trouble and perplex local residents. The performance will include a professional symphony band.“[This season] has a little of everything,” Goff said. “We have a new [costume designer] this year. We have a lot of new [actors].”
“A lot of people are starting to take notice and feel like they want to be a part of what’s happening here, which is really exciting,” she said. “At the University of Idaho, they’re lucky to get 100 people [attending a performance]. When we did ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ in 2010, I had to kick people out because they were sneaking in, they wanted to see it that badly.”
Goff stressed that students should take note of the unusual schedule for showings of “The Underpants.” Usually, shows run from Friday to Sunday the first week and Thursday to Saturday the second week.
However, due to the Veterans Day holiday, “The Underpants” will run Friday and Saturday only (Nov. 9-10) for the first week and Thursday through Sunday (Nov. 15-18) the second week.
“Maybe you’re going to get really intellectually fired up by ‘Ode.’ If you like musicals, you’ll love ‘Bat Boy,’” she said. “If you just like good comedy, or want to get your grandparents to the theater … come [to The Underpants].
“We’re producing for everyone. It’s such a human art form. There really is, in this season, … space for everybody. It’s safe material to taste.”