First rehearsal: The Underpants, “a gloriously hilarious comedy”

Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein (center) addresses Long Wharf Theatre's staff at the first rehearsal of The Underpants
Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein (center) addresses Long Wharf Theatre’s staff at the first rehearsal of The Underpants

With all of the preparation to get ready for the first rehearsal of The Underpants by Steve Martin, one would have to forgive Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein for being a bit confused.

“It’s a beautiful day today, which is an auspicious beginning for the opening of our 19 … 19? 2013-14 season,” he said to a room full of staff members, cast, designers and friends of the theatre.

Long Wharf Theatre is partnering with Hartford Stage to produce the play, a relationship that has resulted in great theatrical experiences for both audiences. “We’ve always created really exciting, entertaining and fun work,” said Maxwell Williams, associate artistic director of Hartford Stage. “We are really psyched to do this with you guys.”

Actors Burke Moses and Didi Conn at the first rehearsal of The Underpants
Actors Burke Moses and Didi Conn at the first rehearsal of The Underpants

Over 40 people crowded into a rehearsal hall upstairs on Tuesday, eager to get started on the upcoming season. The Underpants tells the story of Louise, a lovely young woman stuck in a boring marriage. After a wardrobe malfunction at the king’s parade, she becomes the center of flurry of attention. “This is a gloriously hilarious comedy,” Edelstein said.

He started off his remarks to the group by recounting the history of the play. Carl Sternheim was a popular early 20th century satirist, punching holes in the rising German bourgeoisie. “His plays were popular and scandalous all at the same time,” Edelstein said.

However, the work didn’t end up taking hold in the European canon of great comedies, and wasn’t revived in Europe. In the early 2000s Barry Edelstein (no relation to Gordon), the artistic director of the Classic Stage Company, sent an Eric Bentley translation of the play to Steve Martin, who loved it and agreed to adapt it. “The original work is useful, but it isn’t the same play. Martin moved the play 20 or 30 degrees and made it different,” Gordon said.

Martin took Sternheim’s work and mixed the sublime and stupid in a way that only he can. “Never mistake this as only being stupid. It’s always really smart on a number of levels,” Edelstein said.

While the play still works as a satire of bourgeois values, Edelstein said it is really about sex and fame, a component of the piece that might get missed amidst all of the hi-jinx on stage. “There are the Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons of the world, who are famous for being famous. They love their fame, and over night it goes away,” he said.

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