An innocent bloomer blunder brings domestic chaos in Steve Martin’s The Underpants, Perseverance Theatre’s 40th anniversary season finale, running May 17-June 16.
When Louise, a young beauty attending a royal parade, finds that her unmentionables have fallen down around her ankles, she makes a hasty exit and assumes no harm done—but her priggish husband is mortified. How will his dead-end career in Düsseldorf’s civil service ever withstand the scandal? Nosy neighbors, sudden new suitors, and shameless innuendo fill the script gleefully adapted from Carl Sternheim’s 1910 German farce, Die Hose. This bawdy comedy of manners reveals gender politics that are still relevant after more than 100 years.
“I think people will be surprised by Steve Martin as a playwright,” says Teresa K. Pond, the show’s director, who helmed the 2016 Perseverance hit Peter and the Starcatcher and this season’s A Christmas Carol remount at the PAC; she’s also producing artistic director of Cyrano’s Theatre Company in Anchorage. “While he goofs around on screen in movies like Cheaper by the Dozen, his writing is incredibly sophisticated—he’s probably a bit too smart for his own good, if you know what I mean.”
Pond says the physical gags in The Underpants—slamming doors, stray props, characters in ever-more-compromising positions—follow the classic European farce tradition, though Martin’s wordplay, couched in proper Wilhelmine-era dialogue, has a contemporary American edge. “What seems to be timeless,” the director says, “is humanity’s complicated relationship to sex, love, and finding our own voice amidst cultural bias in relationships.”
The Underpants creative team also includes Shelly Wright (costumes), Art Rotch (lighting), and Matthew Allar (set design). The cast features some actors familiar to Perseverance audiences—Shadow Meienberg, Benjamin Brown, Evan Rothfeld, Charlie Cardwell—along with a pair of talented newcomers: Aaron T. Moore as the stuffy Theo, and Kelly Gibson as his fanciful wife Louise.
“This was a different time, a much more innocent time,” Gibson says. “Louise fills her domestic role with joy and pride, not begrudgingly. There is no shame in being ‘just a little housewife’… She truly does long for a family, so when a child hasn’t come along after a year of marriage, she starts to dream elsewhere… Her journey is one of sexual awakening, of the power of free will, of what it means to not only take care of someone else, but yourself.”
Of course, the actor adds, viewers are under no obligation to find a deeper meaning in The Underpants: at bottom, it’s about having fun.
“My wish would be for our audience to walk away with joy, washed-away worries, and a reminder that it’s OK to be silly,” Gibson says. “The Underpants demands ferocious play, in both language and physicality as Teresa said, and the hope is to ignite ferocious laughter from our audiences in return.”
The Underpants concludes Perseverance’s landmark 40th anniversary season in Juneau; in Anchorage, meanwhile, the blockbuster musical Guys and Dolls runs through May 12 at the PAC.
Subscriptions are now on sale for Perseverance’s 2019-20 season, whose Juneau lineup features the Alaska Native play Devilfish, by Vera Bedard (Tlingit, Dena’ina); the new play With, by Carter Lewis; the iconic drama One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home. In Anchorage, the season will open with The Underpants, and continue with Devilfish, A Christmas Carol, and Cuckoo’s Nest.
The Underpants, by Steve Martin, adapted from the play Die Hose, by Carl Sternheim
Run: May 17-June 16 at Perseverance Theatre, 914 Third Street in Douglas. There will be Pay-What-You-Can previews at 7:30 p.m. May 14 and 16. Beer Friday, with a pre-show reception sponsored by Alaskan Brewing Co., is May 24.
Show times: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays; additional 7:30 p.m. Wednesday show June 5.
Tickets: $33-$41 for adults, $28-$39 for seniors and military, $19-$27 for students; reserve seats at www.ptalaska.org or by calling 907-463-TIXS (8497). May 19 and 23 performances are Pay-What-You-Can; Juneau Arts Night (50 percent off all tickets) is Wednesday, June 5.
Parent advisory: The Underpants is a fast-paced, naughty comedy with suggestive staging and dialogue, although most jokes will go over kids’ heads; recommended for ages 10 and up.
Above: Actors Kelly Gibson as Louise (from left), Aaron T. Moore as Theo, and Shadow Meienberg as Gertrude. Photo by Julie Coppens, staged at Bustin’ Out Boutique in downtown Juneau.