The Underpants is a social satire written by Carl Sternheim in 1911, and adapted here by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin, who in addition to actor, comedian, and author, can list playwright on his enviable resume as well). In Martin's hands, what was once a commentary on the mores of the middle class becomes a lighthearted look at one woman's 15 minutes of fame.
When Louise Maske's underpants fall down unexpectedly while she's standing in the park watching a parade, men in the area who catch sight of the forbidden garment are suddenly and powerfully smitten with lust, and the pretty Louise is catapulted to a brief, scandalous fame. (In the program notes, director Rose Riordan draws a parallel to the Janet Jackson nipple incident.)
Louise lives with her oppressive and flatulent husband Theo (David Watson), who has little interest in Louise's panties, on or off—she tells us that save for her wedding night, she's still a virgin. But unlike her husband, Louise has needs, and she thrives on being the center of so much male attention.
Two suitors—one a Borat-inspired Lothario (Michael Borrelli), the other a craven Jewish barber (John Steinkamp)—rent rooms from the Maskes in order to get closer to Louise and her hypnotic panties, and much of the 90-minute play consists of Louise and her busybody neighbor Gertrude (Sharonlee McLean) conspiring to get Theo out of the way so that Louise can at last consummate an affair.
The exaggerated stereotyping of Benjamin Cohen, the Jewish character, was a particularly interesting directorial decision given that upstairs on PCS' mainstage, a production of Cabaret chronicles the creeping rise of anti-Semitism in Germany only a decade after Underpants was written. It's a fascinating juxtaposition, whether intentional or not I have no idea: Steinkamp's Cohen is miserly and sickly and plays to every Jewish stereotype, while Theo is casually anti-Semitic, and our German heroine is as buxom and blonde as any progenitor of the master race should be. This play isn't about that, though, so try not to think about the Nazi anthems echoing through the auditorium upstairs. This play is about underpants, and fame, and horniness. And it's a buoyant and frothy little production, cheerfully vulgar, as light and frivolous as the undergarments themselves.