By Dawn Watson
The John Drew stage is dark, save for a lone spotlight.
Down the hallway in the Guild Hall rehearsal space, pandemonium is seemingly breaking out all over. It sounds as if the small room has been overrun with a loud, stampeding crowd. But upon entering, all of the hullabaloo can be attributed to a two slight young ladies, fetchingly dressed as beer hall maids, who are boisterously shouting with all their might (yipping, actually), stomping, clapping and prancing around.
“Louder,” says a tall thin dark-haired man, who happens to be director Bill Fennelly. “More joy. More noise. More party.”
The women give it their all for the final run through. Satisfied that they have their parts down pat, the director dismisses them for the moment.
Now it’s time for the leads. As soon as Mr. Fennelly gives them their cue, the actors— Mark David Watson and Marianna McClellan—immediately transform into their stage-version counterparts—Theo and Louise Maske, a pair of bourgeois German newlyweds.
It becomes clear very soon that not only are the two actors quite adept at German accents and playing farce at full force, but that their characters have a very big problem between them. And that problem is all about “The Underpants.”
A pair of dropped ladies delicates becomes the catalyst for everything that’s about to happen during the course of the rehearsed (and soon-to-be-staged) action, an innuendo-filled tale of a love-starved free spirit and her comically uptight betrothed. As might be expected from the title, the play—which opens on Thursday, June 9, and runs through Sunday, June 26, at Guild Hall—is quite naughty. It’s also sinfully fun.
“Hopefully well suited for summer appetites here in the Hamptons, says Mr. Fennelly. But there’s so much more to “The Underpants” than mere silliness, he says.
“It’s a funny, light, smart romp, filled with wit and sophistication” he says. “A classic comedy about love and marriage that’s filled with desire, romance, lust and finding your way—timeless issues.”
Adapted by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) from a 1910 farce written by Carl Sternheim, “Die Hose,” based on a cuckold comedy penned by Molière, the modern version of the play is as shocking and scandalous today as it was intended to be when it was first staged 100-plus years ago. The laugh-out-loud comic adventure also stars Michael Brian Dunn, Tuck Milligan, Daniel Passer and Sabrina Profitt.
Mr. Martin’s smart writing and mastery of language is evident from the first moments of the play, says Mr. Fennelly of the man who rose to fame as an “wild and crazy guy” who sang “King Tut” and starred in “The Jerk” but who also happened to write for a variety of successful projects, including television’s “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” the film “Three Amigos!,” the books “Shopgirl” and “Cruel Shoes,” and the plays “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” and “Bright Star.” The latter, which he co-wrote with Edie Brickell, recently received five Tony Award nominations and won Best Musical at the Tonys and also earned Best Score honors from the Outer Critics Circle Awards.
“It’s sort of the summer of Steve Martin,” laughs Mr. Fennelly, who adds that the writer’s optimistic take on “The Underpants,” originally written much darker by Mr. Sternheim, and his deft touch with dialogue makes this play a work of wonder. “In the original version, you could get to the end and be truly worried about Theo and Louise. But in this version, he shows the best in humanity with great wit and heart, and you know that they’re going to be just fine.”
The comedy takes the audience on quite a thrill ride, reports Mr. Milligan, whom Guild Hall audiences will remember from his dramatic turns in “The Night Alive,” “The Cripple of Inishmaan” and “Equus.” In “The Underpants,” he gets to explore a more lighthearted side of life as the prudish yet randy Klinglehoff, who is conflicted about sex, to say the least.
This is the second time for the actor to tackle this particular role, he reports. In fact, the entire company—from the actors and director down to the tech crew—worked together on a production of “The Underpants” at the Syracuse Stage at the end of last year.
Settling in to the show again has been fun, says the veteran actor. The play allows he and his fellow thespians some prime opportunities to flex their acting muscles.
“Playing farce encompasses both comedy and tragedy,” Mr. Milligan says. “It reminds me of that line in the movie ‘The Vikings’ with Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas where an old gypsy woman says ‘love and hate are but two horns on the same goat.’”
“The Underpants” opens at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Thursday, June 9, and stages Tuesdays through Sundays, through June 26. For reservations and additional information, visit www.guildhall.org.