Rockville Little Theatre’s cast of “The Underpants” have a gem on their hands—a witty play that is as fun to perform as it is to watch. Adapted by comedian Steve Martin, the 1910 farce by Carl Sternheim offers actors a lot to work with, said director Karen Fleming.
“This play is classic Steve Martin, both witty and absurd,” she said. “Of course, he had a wonderful farce written in 1910 to adapt, but he’s made it totally accessible for today’s audience. You simply never take your eyes off the stage.”
The action opens with a lug of a husband bemoaning the fact that his wife’s bloomers fell to the ground as they watched a parade pass by in town. News of the scandal spreads quickly, thanks to a public announcement broadcast at the train station.
Before long, a busybody living up-stairs and two men seeking lodging—or so they claim—appear at the hapless couple’s apartment, putting a downright frisky spin on the situation.
“The play is full of physical humor and double-entendres, just as you would expect in a classic sex farce,” said co-producer Laura Andruski. She added that while no profanity is used, the play is best suited for children, ages 13 and older, and all adults seeking a good laugh.
Six cast members will open the fast-paced show on Jan. 26 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville. Several have acted professionally, but return again and again to participate in productions by the community theater group that has called Rockville home since 1948.
“Unlike some other shows I’ve been in, I’ve never groaned about having to come to rehearsal with this cast,” said actor Jill Goodrich of Silver Spring. “This has been one of most fun experiences I’ve ever had in the theater, in part due to the script, but also the people involved.”
Phil Hosford, who lives in the Kentlands, plays the bombastic husband Theo with a brio honed by years professional acting. “I teach acting, so I need occasionally to get out there on a stage myself. It’s therapeutic,” Hosford said. “I enjoy playing fun characters, and the role of Theo suits me to a T. It’s got that absurd Steve Martin tone to it.”
While the play is a farce, the characters are not one-note personalities and must deal with such questions as the role of women in modern society. “Theo, on the surface, is a bureaucrat from a long line of bureaucrats. But he evolves as his relationship with his wife changes over the course of the play. It’s not like he has an epiphany, it’s subtle, but he does change,” Hosford said.
Those glimpses of social commentary about feminism and even anti-Semitism make the play as topical as when it was performed a century ago, Fleming said.
Goodrich, who plays the zany neighbor who tries to push the wife into having an affair, agreed the play is modern at heart. The wardrobe, however, harks back to a bygone era, right down to the garment that drives the plot.
“We’re in bloomers, corsets and even a chemise,” Goodrich said. “Wearing the corset really makes a difference in your posture. We certainly embody the period, from the inside out.”
Performances of “The Underpants” are Jan. 26, 27, 28 and Feb. 2, 3 and 4 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville. Friday and Saturday night performances begin at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For tickets–$22 for adults and $20 for seniors and students—call the box office at 240-314-8690 or visit fscottfitzgerald.showare.com. Special ticket pricing for groups is also available. For more information about Rockville Little Theatre, visit www.rlt-online.org. Note: “The Underpants” contains some mature themes and humor and is recommended for ages 13 and older.