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Underpants: A Play    by Steve Martin order for
by Steve Martin
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2002 (2002)
* *   Reviewed by Rashmi Srinivas

Talented actor cum writer Steve Martin has adapted The Underpants (the classic 1910 farce by Carl Sternheim) into this hilarious play. Here is the story: Theo Maske, a government clerk with an inflated sense of his own importance, is incensed because of his wife's notoriety. When the play opens, we see the chauvinistic Maske reprimanding his wife Louise for allowing her titular underpants to fall to the ground at a parade for the King - which the entire world and his wife had gathered to watch. A miser to the marrow, Theo feels certain that as a result of his wife's escapade, he will lose his job and consequently his pay of six hundred taler a year.

But soon after the incident, men start arriving at the Maske home, eager to rent their vacant room. First there is Versati, who's come with every intention of seducing the lovely young Louise as soon as her puritanical husband's back is turned. Though at first this horrifies Louise, she is soon convinced to start an affair with the aspiring poet. The change in her attitude is largely a result of the verbal prodding that she receives from their other boarder. For Gertrude, a lonely spinster and busybody, lives her life vicariously through Louise. Things become farcical when, inadvertently, Theo rents the same room to another man, Benjamin Cohen, who's also one of Louise's new admirers. Highly jealous of Versati, he is determined to keep Versati and Louise apart. What follows is a spectacularly comic sequence of events, as intrigue reigns and disasters pile up.

Steve Martin has done a wonderful job of adapting the almost hundred year old German farce to current times and still making it seem as fresh, comical and smart as ever. This amusing little sexual farce has hidden undercurrents which explore sensitive issues such as - marriages failing, affairs, infidelity, chauvinism, gender roles, sexual manipulation, bigotry - all still relevant nowadays (and what does that say about the moral progress we've made in almost a hundred years?) This play is ribald, satirical, self-referential, and quirky - polished by Steve Martin into a comical gem.

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