A description of “The Underpants”, adapted by THAT Steve Martin, which appears on the King’s Town Players website, suggests that the play is a “crazy satire…about scandal and celebrity“. This particular production, however, treats the script as a farce about little more than…well…underpants. The premise of the play is sound and intriguing. Louise, the neglected wife of a blowhard bureaucrat, finds herself the centre of attention after her underpants fall down around her ankles at a public event. Her egocentric husband fears scandal, while her neighbour and confidant senses opportunity. Sure enough, two suitors arrive hoping to rent a room in the house and win the affections of Louise. Unfortunately, this staging appears to place little emphasis on telling the story. The objective, instead, seems to be to get to the next gag.
Most good comedy is developed and delivered as a one-two blow – the first being the set up, and the next being the punch line. Martin’s genius, however, is his ability to turn that on its head, and use the overt punch line to set up the real gem buried within the witty zinger to follow. It’s a slight of hand, akin to the magic that Martin is so fond of. Director Clayton Garrett’s treatment of the script as farce places far greater focus on the slapstick over the subtlety, and a great deal of the playwrights’s biting commentary is lost.
The King’s Town Players once again do an admirable job of turning a dining room into a cabaret-style theatre. The set is suitable, and although the sightlines are not ideal, Garrett’s staging certainly keeps the action of the play accessible to everyone in the room. With obviously little in the way of resources and options, lighting designer Peter Cassidy made the best possible use of what he had to work with, and that certainly helped in creating a theatrical atmosphere. Michael Gourgon’s contribution as sound designer was as efficient and effective as always. What really stood out and set the tone for each individual character, though, were the stunning costumes provided by designer Jennifer Coe. Her attention to detail was remarkable, and the personality of each outfit was simply brilliant.
The caricatures created and portrayed by the two suitors provided the greatest entertainment and most laughs over the course of the evening. Robert Elliott’s performance as the poet Versati was a pleasant send-up, and the physicality of Gabe Meacher’s sickly Cohen was dynamite. Both actors were completely committed to their clownish roles. Kelti Roy, playing the sultry upstairs neighbour, is on the same track with her larger than life treatment, but her execution is not as consistent, so some over-the-top moments are quite jarring. I assume that the introduction of another would-be tenant, Klinglehoff, is meant to provide a straight man, and a foil to the foppishness of the rest. Michael Catlin does provide a stiff contrast to his fellow cast, but seemed to me to lack in purpose. Playing the part of Theo, Louise’s blockheaded husband, is a significant challenge, and Ben Hudson falls short of the conviction required to truly pull it off. I had a difficult time believing that he believed any of the outlandish things he had to say throughout, and that which was meant to be satirical fell off as flat, if not offensive. Nicole Garrett is the perfect “little housewife”, both naïve and endearing, at the start of the play. Her character, however, remains unfortunately static from beginning to end, demonstrating little development or emotional response – despite the wide variety of circumstances in which she finds herself. In general, there was a chemistry lacking across the ensemble, with each performer taking turns acting their lines and doing their own schtick, while working towards the next “fun bit”. The exception, which for me served to highlight its absence elsewhere, is Steve VanVolkingburgh’s few moments on stage, sharing subtext and exchanging meaningful sideways glances upon his arrival, which spoke much louder than any of his words.
“The Underpants” will certainly delight those in need of some unapologetic in-your-face humour to escape the February blahs. While those who are looking for something with a little more nuance may be somewhat disappointed, I’m sure that they will still enjoy a few good laughs and leave the show with a welcome smile on their face. (3/5 Stars)
“The Underpants”, by Steve Martin, is a King’s Town Players production, directed by Clayton Garrett. The play runs at the Kingston Yacht Club at 1 Maitland Street, from Jan 28th to Feb 8th with an 8 pm curtain…Full cast and further information can be found here…Tickets available at the kingstontheatretickets.com or by calling 613-583-7529…