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The Theatre at AACC’s The Underpants

Three surprising sources combine to make comedy

Theater starts with the written word, comes to life in the voices of actors and endures in the memory of its audiences. Sometimes, as with Carl Sternheim’s The Underpants, written in 1910, it gets forgotten until someone rediscovers it, reimagines it and breathes life into it — as comedian Steve Martin did for The Underpants in 2002.
    A German farce, The Underpants seems a comedic take on Ibsen’s The Doll House, which debuted 31 years earlier. The themes of women’s place, marital relationships, societal appearances vs. kitchen realities and desires left wanting are shared by both works. But The Underpants takes the themes on a comic turn.
    The plot? While in a crowd watching the King pass by, Louise’s bloomers come undone and drop to her ankles. She quickly steps out of them, discretely hides them and while embarrassed, thinks that’s the end of the matter. Not so in the Victorian era, when appearances and reputation were of the utmost importance. Gossip spreads. Theo, Louise’s husband, a government bureaucrat who lives to go unnoticed, learns of the incident and fears for his job. 
    Almost immediately comes an unexpected turn of events: The couple hoped to rent a room in their house; now not one but two men apply. Both, it turns out, want to be near the celebrity. Seeing greater return, Theo rents the room to both to share. Suddenly Louise has an infatuated young man, Cohen, and a flamboyant artiste, Versati, in her house.
    Farce takes over as entrances, exits and mistaken motivations mingle.
    Amna Geko as Louise is convincing as a lonely, intelligent woman baffled by the attention her slip is causing. Nate Tyson as her husband conveys the comedy of his role. Timothy Woda as Cohen and Miguel Hemilio Valarino Salazar as Versati literally throw themselves into the overblown roles of the two boarders. Woda in particular is a gifted physical comedian and Salazar knows how to use his cape and stances for fun.
    Set and lights by Sean Urbantke are interesting, if confusing. Theo and Louise’s home is an open concept modern living space brightly painted with vibrant contemporary colors. In odd ambivalence, it is filled with Victorian set pieces and actors costumed by director Lars Tatom in Victorian style.
    The Theatre at AACC deserves credit for sharing Martin’s revival jokes. This is play you’d love to share in. Good intentions must be realized audibly as well as physically, however; actors should project rather than mumble.
    Sit close to the stage, and you’ll enjoy The Underpants.

With Jessica Patterson as Gertrude, Bill DeBranson as Klinglehoff and Callan Holderbaum as the King. Director: Lars Tatom. Stage Manager: Sarah Bierc. Props: Magdalene Urban and Lea H.M. Scherini.
Playing thru April 20 8pm Th-Sa at the College’s Pascal Center. $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-777-2457; www.aacc.edu.