MADE YOU SAY “UNDERPANTS”

Nicole Garrett & Michael Catlin, Photo courtesy of John A Geddes

Nicole Garrett & Michael Catlin, Photo courtesy of John A Geddes

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…

9 comments

  1. Thanks again for a thoughtful review, Will, it is always interesting to read your comments.

    I agree that this production relies heavily on Steve Martin’s slapstick style of comedic writing, to its advantage I would argue, rather than treating his subject matter too seriously. I think that one of the things I enjoy the most about Mr.Martin’s treatment of sensitive topics is his tendency to yell about them at the top of his lungs until we have no choice but to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

    I also find it interesting that your critique about the lack of subtlety in this particular production is followed by your appreciation for the acting styles of the most obvious caricatures. I would argue that they were indeed entertaining in their extremity, but that the subtlety and consistency of both Ben Hudson and Nicole Garrett, only served to highlight their absurdity.

    I’m glad you found some laughs on a cold night in January and look forward to reading your next review!

    Cheers,

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective Krista…This is what makes theatre so wonderful, as far as I’m concerned! My nod to the caricature performances is a recognition that this was clearly a choice that was made, and they most certainly achieved the laughs they were looking for…Best wishes to the Company for the rest of the run 🙂 …

  2. I don’t go to see anything that has to do with Steve Martin with the expectation of experiencing something “nuanced”. I go to have fun and laugh, and that is exactly what I did when I saw this production last night.

    I enjoyed all of the characters in this play. The slapstick style of the two suitors was entertaining, but every one of the cast members fulfilled their role in an outstanding way. Nicole Garrett portrayed a sweet young wife, but she also showed a side that clearly understood that her husband was a pretentious blow-hard. Her transformation at the end was surprising and pleasing and was the perfect ending for the play. We left with a smile. Ben Hudson nailed the role of the guy you love to hate, but he wasn’t so over-the-top that he looked cartoonish. Kelti Roy played the part of the nosy-but-lovable neighbour to a tee and provided some very funny moments without over-acting.

    I agree that Robert Elliott was a perfectly over-the-top poet, and my dad nearly fell off his chair laughing at the antics of Gabe Meacher. One of the highlights of the play was when Meacher’s character got a chance to “burn” the ever-annoying Theo over his anti-Jewish attitude.

    I thought that Michael Catlin’s character was fun because he portrayed Klinglehoff as such a prude and he made the perfect straight-man for Louise’s angry rant. He delivered his lines with such horrified conviction that the audience couldn’t help but laugh at his predicament.

    Steve VanVolkingburgh’s portrayal of the king was also bang-on. His serious delivery of his reason for being there was so shocking and out-of-the-blue, it was, indeed, another highlight.

    I have seen many King’s Town Players productions over the years, and I have to say this is one of the ones I have enjoyed the most. Perhaps I’m a little less refined than a theatre reviewer, but I know what I like. And, I liked this. A lot.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Connie…I don’t claim to be “refined” – but am glad to provide a place for audience members alike to share their feedback…I am sure that the King’s Town Players appreciate your ongoing support!

  3. Takes nerve to demand more from your friends, Will, but it’s telling them you believe they could do it, and it’s going to make Kingston theatre even better.

    I agree that this show is funny as is but could be even funnier. it’s a satire, which is more than a farce. The characters, although they’re bizarre, can be played as real human beings driven to excesses by their rampant libidos but still living believable lives. And that, as you say, means playing them more than laugh to laugh.

    In this respect, I liked Rob Elliott’s poet best because he made it clear that for him, sexual nirvana was a good poem, the thought of sex only inspiration. Mike Catlin’s intensely ashamed Klinglehoff also seemed to me a real, if deeply unbalanced person. I found myself so fascinated by the brilliantly funny details of Gabe Meacher’s performance that I’m sorry to say I lost track of what his character was about. You’ve said Ben Hudson lacked conviction but I think that’s because his character is only capable of calculation–a monster only Ayn Rand could love. The height of ecstasy for him is the fact that the King’s interest in his wife will pay off big time. For him. I believed that. As you say, Steve made the King’s attraction more than plausible.

    That leaves the women. I think the point of the play is that whatever sexual energy may be aroused by the sight of a woman’s underpants, none of it will benefit the women in any way whatsoever. Both Kelti and Nikki’s characters “flash” lingerie. The difference between them, as Kelti’s character says, is that Nikki’s character begins the play with high innocent hopes of a little happiness for herself, whereas Kelti’s is already thoroughly disillusioned. I don’t think she’s truly a “sultry” lady. I think she’s been driven to try acting that way (not all that well) in hopes of scaring up a little response from the intensely self absorbed men. Note her decision to stay loyal to her friend even when the jerk husband buys her act.

    Nikki’s character begins with a lovely genuine innocence and interest, struggles gamely to maintain hope, and is finally more cynical than her upstairs neighbour, deeply dubious about even the King. For me, that’s an arc. It’s important in a satire that there be one wholly human and admirable character amidst all the idiocy, and for me that was what Nikki made of her character.

    Looking forward to your reactions to Red.

  4. I caught the show on Tuesday night and have been rather unsure of what to say about it ever since. For the most part, when people asked me what I thought of it, I just smiled. If you know me, that isn’t always a great sign, though often it is a sign that I am thinking. Perhaps as Clay has said best, you either love Steve Martin or you don’t. I am not sure…..maybe…..or maybe I just respond differently to his particular sense of humour.
    For the most part, I enjoyed the play for particular elements, and that probably says it all. I saw it as parts of a whole, rather than feeling that I was being caught up in a full story; each character interweaving with the other.
    The actors were terrific in their roles by staying true to their choice and never failing to be that character throughout. I was particularly impressed with the physicality of Gabe Meacher’s Cohen and Rob’s Versati (they must have been exhausted by the end of the night), but I can’t help but feel that there were subtitles in the dialog that were overshadowed by that same element. I would have loved to have seen a quieter atmosphere for some of the more poignant humour.
    I find it particularly interesting in many of the comments above, and those from people with whom I have discussed the play, that there is a purpose and a style in the dialog of Steve Martin’s humour that is brilliant. I don’t discount that. I am quite sure all of these much more worldly and well versed theatre goers are correct. However for me, it was not intuitive. Don’t get me wrong. I laughed – boy did I laugh! The antics were very enjoyable and yes, there were some lovely lines with backbiting sarcasm but for the most part, I was overwhelmed with the aspect of farce. Somehow I don’t get the impression that straight up farce is what Martin was going for.
    So in the end, The Underpants is a fun evening of entertainment and everyone involved works incredibly hard to bring their character to life in the direction chosen. While the play flowed over the course of the evening, I had some trouble with the holistic feel for the play.

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