Phoenix opens 11th season with ‘Underpants’

By Jesse Blair | Sep 28, 2018

The Phoenix Theater kicked off its 11th season with Steve Martin’s “The Underpants” – a slapstick, suggestive examination of what can happen when men catch a glimpse of a woman’s undergarments – and the extent at which they are willing to go to fulfill their sensual fantasies.

The play was originally written in 1910 as a German expressionistic comedy by Carl Sternheim, but it never caught steam in the English-speaking world until Hollywood icon Martin adapted it. Since then, it has been produced all over the country.

The story is set in a German flat in the early 1900s. It centers on a newly married couple, Theo and Louise Maske (Renee Gilbert). Theo (Asa Sholdez) is a domineering, narrow-minded government clerk who believes a wife’s sole priority is to serve as a homemaker and rely on her husband to make adult decisions.

He also believes that marital intimacy is reserved exclusively for childbearing purposes.

When he hears that his wife Louise accidentally loses her underpants in public while trying to catch a glimpse of the king addressing his people, he freaks out. If word of this gets around, Theo could lose his very important man’s job as a government clerk.

As it so happens, word of this does get around as two eccentric and passion-driven men both try to rent out a room in the couple’s small flat – all because they caught a glimpse of Louise’s underpants.

Director Eric Lewis returns to the Phoenix after his previous play “The Foreigner,” bringing a similar flavor of lively comedy that at times rivals The Three Stooges in its slapstick nature. He once again utilizes the energetic physical comedy of James Lynch, who has been seen on the Phoenix stage much as of late.

Melanie Calderwood plays the newlyweds’ older neighbor, Gertrude Deuter. She encourages Louise to explore her passions and hopes to do some exploration of her own. The most romantic thing anyone had ever told her, she points out, is that water can still flow from rusty pipes.

Curt Simmons plays a romantic, yet fickle unpublished poet named Frank Versati. His aggressive and poetic charm contrasts the blundering and forced romantic attempts of Lynch’s character, Benjamin Cohen.

These two tenants tussle for the attention of Louise.

Gilbert steals the show as a somewhat aloof, repressed housewife who learns that she can have power over men with a pair of underpants. She brings a calming presence to the stage, which helps keep the show grounded.

The play is a commentary on the age of progress. Artists and thinkers such as Wagner, Descartes and Nietzsche are name-dropped.

They symbolize the open expression and free thinking of the future.

The age of monarchs and male dominated societies are drawing to an end, as women understand that they have a powerful card in the deck.

“The Underpants” runs for a brisk 95 minutes without an intermission. The comedy often has sexual overtones, but they are not explicit. The show is not for children.

The themes may make some people uncomfortable, but those who are OK with suggestive material will no doubt laugh.

“The Underpants”

Where: Phoenix Theatre, 9673 Firdale Ave., Edmonds
When: Through Oct. 14. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $24. $22 for seniors and students.
Information:, 206-533-2000



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