Curtain Calls

By Donald V. Calamia

Review: 'The Underpants'

Sophisticatedly silly sex farce is bloomin' fun!

Everyone needs a good chuckle in these depressing times of war and presidential campaigns, so get on your knees and thank your favorite deity for The Purple Rose Theatre Company. Then head to Chelsea for "The Underpants," a good old-fashioned bedroom farce that will knock your knickers off - in a comedic sense, of course!

Imagine that you're the pretty, young wife of a stuffy government clerk whose underpants fall to her feet while attending a parade in honor of the King. Would you be embarrassed by the accident - and never be seen in public again? Or would the excitement and attention awaken the desires for lust and adventure that have long been missing from your all-too predictable life?

If that happened today, Louise would surely become yet another soon-to-be-forgotten celebrity living out her 15 minutes of fame. But not in 1910 DŸsseldorf, Germany where actor/comedian Martin's sex farce takes place.

Instead, Theo - her husband - frets that people will gossip about the event, or worse, he might lose his job over it! After all, what if the King himself observed her drooping unmentionables?

In a farce - where complicated and improbable plots thrive - it is expected that anything can and will happen. But playwright Martin, who based his well-crafted script on a play by Carl Sternheim, has taken this ancient concept and refreshed it for modern times. Its dialogue is witty, silly and side-splittingly funny at times, his stereotypical characters well-delineated and it is filled with more twists and turns than a street vendor's pretzel.

And there's nary a double-entendre that he misses - of a sexual nature, that is!

Beneath the comedic mayhem, though, Martin addresses serious topics that face the world today: Anti-Semitism ("That's Cohen with a 'K.'"), relationships - marital and otherwise ("A man will not put off till tomorrow who he can sleep with today.") - and the folly of fleeting fame.

Yet like a children's fairy tale with a happy ending, Martin also leaves the audience with a well-defined moral or two for everyone to consider!

What theatergoers DON'T have to ponder, however, is this: "The Underpants" is yet another finely executed production in a season filled with such endeavors at the Purple Rose Theatre!

As he proved earlier this season with "Blythe Spirit" and "Leaving Iowa," Director Anthony Caselli has a flair for comedy. His attention to detail and split-second timing especially shine in this production, and his scene changes - which are totally in-tune with the flow of the story - are exceptionally well-choreographed.

But it is his casting that truly stands out.

Wayne David Parker - always an asset in any production - gives a fine performance as the regimented husband who never wants to stand out or be noted for anything. Emily Phenix, who starts out as the quiet but dutiful housewife but who learns a thing or two about life (and men), is equally enjoyable.

Flawless performances are also given by Sarab Kamoo, John Lepard, Paul Hopper and Grant Krause.

But it is Randall Godwin who, as the Jewish barber with more chutzpah than even he realizes, brings the house down on more than one occasion. It is a brilliant performance from start to finish.

All technical aspects - as they have been all season - are excellent!

The Underpants Presented Wednesday through Sunday at the Purple Rose Theatre, 137 Park St., Chelsea, through June 5. Tickets: $17.50 - $32.50. 734-433-7673. http://www.purplerosetheatre.org.

The Bottom Line: Don't get your panties in a knot: Sure, it's silly - but live theater rarely gets better than this!

Review: 'A Life in the Theatre'

...An actor's life for me!

Two actors (well, okay, there's actually three, but one is mute from start to finish), some lines and an audience is not only a quote from David Mamet's minimalist drama "A Life in the Theatre," it also aptly sums up the production that is now playing at the Abreact Performance Space on the fringes of Detroit's Greektown.

It is the type of show that some will love and others might loathe, but that's not the Abreact's fault. Blame the playwright - or more precisely, his style of writing - instead!

If there is one piece of advice that young authors are offered more often than any other, it is probably this: Write about what you know.

A young David Mamet - who started his career in show biz as an actor and director - must have taken that advice to heart. After receiving acclaim for his initial scripts in the early-to-mid 1970s, the fledgling playwright turned his keen eye on his beloved theater - the result of which was "A Life in the Theatre."

To many critics, the play is nothing short of a love letter to his profession; to some on the inside, it certainly captures both the dedication and the cattiness found backstage of every theater that ever existed.

What audiences observe, however, is a tightly written series of vignettes that addresses an age-old situation many of us experience at some point during our lives: the passing of the torch from one generation to the next.

Two actors - a seasoned veteran and a young and up-and-comer - find themselves working in a repertory company. As the play begins, it appears that Robert has taken the youth under his wing. He freely imparts the wisdom and traditions he's gained over the years, and at first, John appears to be interested in - and receptive to - what the older man pontificates.

But as the 20 or so vignettes progress, the life-cycle of their relationship changes - especially after the young actor auditions for a different play.

There's regret, jealousy, loss, concern and every other emotion that bubbles to the surface when a child is leaving the nest. And - just possibly - Robert has OTHER feelings for John that complicate their relationship!

Mamet's claim to fame as a writer is his dialogue. It is usually short, gritty and to the point; he neither minces nor wastes words. What's more, the brevity of his writing allows the directors and actors who stage his plays to freely interpret his characters; a lot is left to their fertile imaginations.

For his production at the Abreact, Director Charles Reynolds echoes Mamet and gives the show a minimalist interpretation; he leaves a lot to the audience's imagination.

There's a half-empty bottle sitting on Robert's dressing table, but is he an alcoholic? Was the cut to Robert's wrist really a suicide attempt rather than an accident? How does Robert feel when John purposely blocks him during a performance - after being asked not to?

Although much could have been done to emphasize the context beneath the words, the natural feel Reynolds gives to his production works - possibly because of the small stage and comfortable, yet intimate, house.

Likewise, the minimalist performances by Alan Madlane (Robert) and Bryan Spangler (John) work well, given the overall concept of the show.

And Jennifer House, like the silent prop master of 17th century commedia dell-arte, is much appreciated as the Stage Manager.

A Life in The Theatre Presented Friday and Saturday at the Abreact Performance Space, 442 E. Lafayette, Detroit, through May 1. Free admission; donations accepted. The Bottom Line: If you like your theater "minimalist," you'll enjoy this entertaining production!

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