There’s the wild and crazy Steve Martin from his many “Saturday Night Live” guest appearances. Then there’s the nimble and keenly observant Steve Martin from his play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”
With “The Underpants,” Martin’s 2002 Off-Broadway adaptation of a 1911 German farce now taking a romp at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater, expect wild and crazy.
The action begins, as expected in burlesque, with the opening and slamming of a door. “This did not happen,” exclaims Theo Maske, husband and civil servant. Fearful that the “scandal” will cost him his job, he’s insecurely tyrannical as played by Mark David Watson.
“Everybody was looking at the king, not at me,” his lovely and loveless wife, Louise, reassures in vain. Marianna McClellan gives us reason to see what the fuss is all about with her complicit longing and impeccable comic timing.
What everybody in Düsseldorf saw was Louise’s underpants fall to her ankles as she strained on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of his majesty passing by in a parade. Soon, a room-for-rent sign in the window of the Maskes’ apartment draws serial male attention. First, roguish and quick-tongued Versati (Daniel Passer) devises fanciful schemes to lure Louise into his room. The next prospective tenant, Ben (Michael Brian Dunn), a middle-age barber, is overt about his intentions, though he’s circumspect about his religion. “That’s Cohen with a K,” he tells his prospective landlord, suspecting anti-Semitism.
When Theo learns that his wife has already rented the room to Versati, he cuts a deal to divide it in half and charge both overeager men full freight. Gertrude (Sabrina Profitt), a nosy upstairs neighbor, offers to play lookout to warn Louise if her husband returns home early from work in the middle of a dalliance, which Louise is only too willing to entertain. “But for our wedding night, I’d still be a virgin,” she complains about her inattentive husband.
Even older would-be suitors follow, including the flummoxed Klinglehoff (Tuck Milligan), who still manages to be aroused in a sight gag that brings to mind a popular “Saturday Night Live” with Justin Timberlake. Such is the level of “Underpants” humor.
We admired the period set (William Bloodgood) and costumes (Raquel Barreto). And while the cast, as directed by Bill Fennelly, is exceptionally skilled, Martin’s comedy may make some of us guffaw and others merely smirk.