This week I am writing from West Lafayette, Indiana where I am currently music directing a production of Hair for Purdue University's Theatre. Rehearsals just started and I am very excited to be here working on such an awesome show. I may write a little bit about my experience working on the show out here, since I will be away from the New York theatre scene for a few weeks.
But that doesn't mean there isn't any theatre in Indiana. The day before rehearsals started I was able to see closing night for the first show this semester at Purdue, Steve Martin's adaptation of The Underpants by Carle Sternheim. I knew very little of the show, and was excited to see it.
We are introduced to Louise Maske, who has caused a commotion in the small provincial 1910 German town she lives in, when independently of her dress, her underpants accidentally fall down to the ground.
Just the sight of her underpants at her ankles sends the men of the town into a sexually frenzy. She instantly becomes the object of every man's lust. As a result, a number of men come to her house, posing as men interesting in renting a room in her and her husband Theo's house, but are secretly trying to seduce her.
Through a series of crazy events, a couple of men end up sharing the rented room, and try to seduce her, all the while her husband is unaware of what is happening under his nose.
What has the set up for a fun, old-fashioned sex farce, ends up feeling more like a neutered dog trying to hump you leg.
Steve Martin's adaptation is adequate, but one wonders why this story has any relevance. Of course, we still experience "wardrobe malfunctions" today, and the sight of flesh at an inappropriate time can still be shocking and possibly morally offensive. (The University's upcoming productions of Marat/Sade and Hair have both sparked controversy over their planned use of nudity.) But the play's odd mix of modern and classical jokes and structure leave one wondering if it's a modern play masking as an old one, or an old one desperately trying to be relevant.
In most cases, I prefer the latter. And if I'm honest with myself, in the end I was able to see some of today's culture reflected in this early 20th century German town. But this is all for nothing, if the jokes just aren't that funny.
But Steve Martin did throw in an almost prophetic joke. Louise's noisy neighbor announces upon entering that she just saw the new Sternheim comedy at the theatre that night. Louise asks her how she liked it and if it was worth seeing, to which the neighbor replies, "I would wait for the adaptation."
Now having seen the adaptation that she's talking about, I have some advice for Louise: Don't pay full price!
But there were some fine and occasionally funny performances from the cast. Any problems I had with the show, was with the show itself, not with the students performances. I will be lucky enough to work with a handful of them on Hair.
(I was also very careful with the 50 foot rule here, you never know who's Grandma is sitting in front of you! lol)