Steve Martin brings his comic genius and sophisticated literary style to Carl Sternheim’s classic 1910 farce, Die Hose. His hilarious new version, The Underpants, opened in March 2002 on Off-Broadway.
Carl Sternheim (born William Adolph Carl Francke) was a German playwright and short story writer. In his works, he sharply criticized the moral principles of Germany. Sternheim was born in 1878 to a wealthy family. His fortune was enhanced by marriage to an heiress, allowing him to throw off the middle class mantle he seemed to have been destined for and gave him the freedom to write for the theatre. His strongest influence was found in the crowd-pleasing boulevard comedies he saw as a child at his uncle’s theatre, the Belle Alliance in Berlin. Sternheim found success in the 1910s poking fun at the burgeoning German middle class in a series of plays he called “Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class,” of which Die Hose (The Underpants) (1911) was included. Because of the lewdness of the title, the play was banned by censors. It took the intercession of a lovely actress with the police to get the play performed. Sternheim’s world is one of bourgeois bureaucrats spouting nonsensical legalese and fretting over the tenuous hold they have on their small part of society.
Comedian, writer, actor, director, playwright & banjo master Steve Martin took Sternheim’s original satirical genius and layered on his own particular brand of comic absurdity. He may be the most famous name attached to The Underpants, but wouldn’t be anywhere if not for the initial efforts of Sternheim.
“Sternheim’s play is ribald, satirical, self-referential, and quirky. I hope I have retained those elements and assured my place in heaven – I mean, served the playwright’s intentions.” — Martin wrote in his introduction to the play.
Bursting with Martin’s signature zaniness, wordplay, and comedy The Underpants is a farcical burlesque set in a nostalgic time-gone-by that sends up bourgeois snobbery and conformity and also hits on issues of fame, feminism, and the nature of respectability. Martin has reinvigorated a hilarious, laugh-out-loud stage show. As the play opens, Theo Maske, an officious, puritanical bureaucrat, berates his wife Louise for allowing her bloomers to fall to the ground at a parade for the king. Theo frets that he and Louise will be financially ruined and become social outcasts from the inevitable scandal. But before long, infatuated men appear at Maske’s door to rent a room and, unnoticed by the proprietor, to seduce his wife. Scandal erupts into spectacle and our fascination with fame, reliance on gender roles, and our enslavement by sex are contemplated. Jammed with off-the-wall humor, wordplay, and masterful banter, Martin’s adaptation is as relevant today as Sternheim’s play was a century ago.
Layered underneath is a beautiful, prophetic story about a changing country and society, and how people hold onto old values and ideals. Through the magic of live theater and a shared experience, perhaps audience members will examine the beliefs they hold onto strongly and think more about their own perspectives and biases.
See The Underpants October 21-25 at CCBC Essex, Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center, in the F. Scott Black Theatre. Seating is limited and arranged to ensure social distancing, masks are required. To learn more about our other precautions and preparations for this live performance, view the full reopening guide here: https://tinyurl.com/safelyreopen.
Performance Dates: October 21 at 11:10 a.m., October 22, 23 at 7 p.m., October 24 at 2 p.m. (ASL Interpreted), and October 25 at 10 a.m.
General admission $10, Seniors, Students, CCBC Faculty/Staff/Alumni $5, FREE for CCBC Students with current ID
Purchase tickets online or call the Box Office at 443-840-ARTS.