The Theatre in the Round, the Twin Cities’ oldest theater, celebrated the opening of its sixty-third season with the revival of The Underpants, an old German play readapted by comedian Steve Martin. With a title such as The Underpants, I expected the play to be nothing shy of incredulously zany. Sure enough, the performance did not fall flat at any moment. The play takes place in 1910s Germany in the modest home of a newly married couple that battles their own strife in the most outrageous ways. The simplicity of the set had a very minimalist effect on the viewers. Instead of detracting from the action and humor, it made the bond between audience and actors closer. In addition, the Theatre in the Round is known for its rounded stage. With the audience circled around it, similar to the setting of black box theater, the set-up created a strong feeling of intimacy.
You’re probably wondering how the actual underpants get tangled up in this whole thing, or how such a modestly patriarchal couple such as Theo and Louise become besmirched by an item as sexually explicit as a pair of underpants. The story goes as follows: Theo and Louise go out to view the annual German parade, where the King always makes his appearance. Louise forgets to tie the drawstrings on her underwear and as she stretches to get a glimpse of the king, her garments fall down past her skirts and are exposed to the crowd. Theo berates Louise for being such an embarrassment, and soon enough, several men are coming to the newlyweds’ house to rent out the room upstairs, just to get closer to the raunchy, undergarments-baring, Louise. This creates a hilarious tangle of male suitors, an angry husband stuck in the guidelines of how women should behave, and one confused Louise. With the help of her nosy neighbor, Louise reevaluates her sexuality and her role as a housewife.
Although the plot and the chronology of this play may not at first lure in the typical Macalester student, its themes of gender and sexuality are quite relevant. The creativity that this theater provides adds depth to the capabilities and power of seemingly silly performance, by evoking intimacy with Louise that the audience would not feel had it not been set on such a small, minimal stage. Although Louise is confined to the 1910s, her attitude, as well as the frequent talk of sex, seem anachronistic for the play. She isn’t the “proper” housewife that her husband would like her to be: she drinks, uses sarcasm, hates cooking and cleaning, back talks her husband and forgets to tie her underpants before leaving the house. Her laid back, sassy personality makes her anything but the perfect housewife her husband would like her to be. However, this personality does not truly come out until she drops her underpants and the suitors start coming, triggering her to question her sexuality and question the authority of her husband and of the men in her life. Although many of the other characters seem stuck in their idiosyncrasies, we watch Louise blossom. We laugh with Louise at the outrageous story she spins, the ridiculous characters she has to put up with, and most importantly, we root for her.
Come support this local Twin Cities theater by seeing The Underpants. Check out the upcoming productions Theatre in the Round is putting on for October at: http://www.theatreintheround.org/