We at LWT are trying to get up to date on our cultural references and there are certainly a bunch of them in The Underpants, now playing on the Mainstage. We are in good shape talking about the latest MLB playoff game, the “Breaking Bad” finale, or what’s playing in New York, but when it comes to philosophy, mathematics, and psychoanalysis we are out of luck. (Actually we know a little something about psychoanalysis.)
So, in spirit of knowledge and deep meaningful research (Google is our best pal), we present you with a few facts about some of the names that you’ll hear in The Underpants (when you are not laughing at the silliness on stage, that is).
Sigmund Freud – come on, you guys know this one, right? Father of modern psychoanalysis. He believed dreams were wish-fulfillment and created the concept of the Oedipal complex, you know, when you love your mom and are jealous of your dad. Guy had a certain flair for the dramatic, I would guess.
Rene Descartes – You’ve ignored him in college in a couple of different places. A 17th century Dutch philosopher and mathematician, he invented the Cartesian coordinate system which “specifies each point uniquely in a plane by a pair of numerical coordinates, which are the signed distances from the point to two fixed perpendicular directed lines, measured in the same unit of length.” (We didn’t even attempt to paraphrase that in any way, just cut and pasted it right out of Wikipedia.) He is also known for the philosophical statement “Cogito ergo sum,” which translates to “I think, therefore, I am,” a sentiment which we at LWT like very much.
Rudolph Valentino – We gotcha on this one, Martin. OK, you’ve got the rest of the stuff right in the play. You’ve taken early 20th century German satire and turned it into a hilariously relevant commentary on our age. You’ve name-dropped everyone possible (we haven’t even gotten to the Jupiter/Mercury mythological references yet.) We know you are a smart guy. But you got this one wrong – Valentino didn’t appear in his first movie until 1914, years after the events of the play take place, and didn’t become an iconic silent-film heartthrob until several years later. There is no way the characters in The Underpants would know who he was, unless they happened to be on the same boat from Italy to Ellis Island. In fact, there were no movie stars in that era, because producers felt that silent film actors were interchangeable, essentially, and to keep the salaries down they didn’t make any one particularly prominent. And, Stevie, you should know that Valentino’s Syndrome is the name of a lower abdominal pain caused by a perforated duodenal ulcer. If you decide to use that fact in your next play, just send a royalty check made out to the Long Wharf Theatre. We’ll be sure to use it wisely.