Bored of the daily humdrum of keeping house in 1910 Germany, Louise is thrilled to have a chance to see the king on parade. However, the crowds see more than they bargained for when, just as the king passes by, the knot holding up Louise’s underpants comes undone, letting them drop for all to see!
What ensues is a zany farce of desire and traditional views, where Louise is suddenly given the choice to remain dutiful to a loveless and unpleasant marriage or to chase her own desires, as she herself is now pursued…
- Louise and Theo (as played by Chelsey Cowan and Chris Lucas). Photo by Maria Vartanova
Bored of the daily humdrum of keeping house in 1910 Germany, Louise is thrilled to have a chance to see the king on parade. However, the crowds see more than they bargained for when, just as the king passes by, Louise’s underpants fall off for all to see!
Theatre Kraken’s The Underpants is a Steve Martin adaptation of a 1910 German play by Carl Sternheim, filled to the brim with innuendo and toilet humour. Though crass at times, there are a number of things to applaud about this performance.
For starters, this play was remarkably staged, especially for an opening performance. The action was dynamic, yet natural. There wasn’t an actor here who was standing ramrod behind a chair, all too obviously waiting for their next cue. They act, effectively so, as integrated parts of a shared scene, comfortably at home in the comedy of this German household.
This naturalness is further enhanced by how well the leading cast took to their roles, enhancing those traits peculiar to their own individual characters. This is particularly true of Lawrence Evenchick, who plays the love-struck hypochondriac Cohen “with a K,” and Krista Marchand as Gertrude, the nosy upstairs neighbour who is as busy as she is bawdy.
Chris Lucas’s performance stands out most of all with his portrayal of Theo, accentuating his character’s revolting nature with over-the-top expression and hyper-masculine eccentricities. (Just feel his manly thighs!) Lucas comes off as the master of his house and of this stage the moment he appears, regardless of whether or not the views of his character merit it.
- Kilnglehoff and Louise (as played by Allan Zander and Chelsey Cowan). Photo by Maria Vantanova.
It should be mentioned here that, due to the era this play was written in and despite its modern adaptation, this is one of those plays that is—as is often the excuse for outdated social mores—“a thing of its time.” As director Don Fex cautions in the show materials, “some of the dialogue in the play comes across as misogynistic and sexist, and by our standards today, seems almost absurd.”
This refers in large part but not solely to the chauvinistic doctrine that is the basis of Theo’s personality. It is Fex’s belief, however, that “these instances help to set the time, when it truly was a man’s world and where woman’s desires and wants were considered secondary—if thought of at all.”
Truth be told, Lucas’s farcical and overblown portrayal of Theo goes a long way to undermine and make laughable his character’s poorly reasoned and contradictory philosophies. However, it’s entirely possible that some audience members may still find bits of this play’s content problematic.
Even if you see the play as portraying Chelsey Cowan’s Louise as a woman who has decided to own her own sexuality and needs, her personal revolution fails to reach a climax, as it were, and this minor assertion of female authority—which may have been scandalous in 1910—seems lacking in 2015.
That being said, the intent of this play is, first and foremost, comedy, and if your interest lies in saucy innuendo and witty repartee, you will most certainly be laughing throughout the entire show!