Looks can be deceiving. An apartment with the feel of a cozy cottage appears to be a happy home: a glowing fireplace, a kitchen filled with spices, a cage housing a chirping canary. Sepia-toned lighting transforms the flat into an antique photograph, charming and warm. Bouncing German marches play, setting an upbeat mood. But within this inviting setting, dirty little secrets hide.
The young wife of a government clerk, Louise Maske has a certain reputation to uphold. Namely, her husband's. Her husband, Theo, is ashamed when, in front of the entire town, at the king's parade, Louise's underpants end up around her ankles. Gossip spreads quickly in 1910 Dusseldorf and Louise's panties (and the mysteries that they were supposed to conceal) are soon notorious. When her infamy draws two infatuated boarders to rent the vacant room in their house, Louise's clueless husband, blinded by greed, can't wait to welcome them.
Versati, a romantic Italian poet, is the first to arrive and lay claim to the room and Louise. Smooth, romantic, and seductive, J. Paul Nicholas' Versati easily enthralls the love-starved Louise with his sentimental, lackluster sonnets. When Benjamin Cohen comes along, a barber with ironically wild hair, her plan to allow Versati to seduce her is thwarted.
The plot spins into a love hexagon when nosy upstairs neighbor Gertrude becomes involved in encouraging Louise's affair. Scheming, loud, and excitable, Mary Ann Conk's Gertrude seems to be moving, even when she isn't. Think I Love Lucy, but make Ethel more youthful and the star of the show (Louise) and move devious Lucy upstairs to become the attention-starved best friend.
A dapper man with slicked hair, an antiquated moustache, waistcoat, cravat, and hanging watch chain, Theo is concerned with appearances. Bryant Mason's Theo is a whiner and a know-it-all, constantly puffing out his chest and strutting about. He proclaims his masculinity so loudly, it makes one think he doth protest too much. The fact that he shirks his husbandly responsibilities with the excuse that he isn't financially ready to have a child only makes him more suspicious.
Maury Ginsberg's neurotic, nearly Woody Allen-esque portrayal of Cohen, a hypochondriac geek with spastic tendencies, is the standout. One can't help but feel for this socially backwards introvert while at the same time hating him for preventing Louise from reaching sexual satisfaction with Versati.
Watch for Lee Moore's half-Lurch, half-Vincent Price portrayal of Klinglehoff. Although his character seems to have little purpose in the storyline, his delivery of a foul-mouthed string of expletives is shockingly hilarious.
Each character is exaggerated, larger than life --- all except Alyssa Rae's Louise. The spindle around which the rest of the plot winds, she is a canvas on which the other characters paint. Louise, an innocent kept caged in her home, has never been celebrated. When she becomes notorious, thanks to her underwear upset, she is empowered by her sexuality. Rae is a beautiful blond with a charming physique, but the realization that Louise must come to, that her body equals power, doesn't even begin to appear until the show's conclusion.
The show is bawdy. From a obvious double entendre about cutting Theo's sausage from tip to end before cooking it, to naughty puns about "beating around the bush," to blatant comments about Louise deserving to have "something in (her) at night, other than sauerkraut," this show is definitely not meant for the conservative, faint of heart, or children. What did you expect in a show about underpants?
The Underpants | playing through February 4 | GevaTheatreCenter, 75 Woodbury Boulevard | $14.50-$53.50. | 232-GEVA, www.gevatheatre.org.