Review: The Underpants (Coffeehouse Theatre)

The Underpants, adapted by Steve Martin and based on the 1910 German play Die Hose by Carl Sternheim, is a very funny and intelligent play about a woman whose underpants accidentally fall down during the King’s parade. This performance is brought to us by the new-to-Toronto theatre company Coffeehouse Theatre and is a great way for them to make their debut.

The play began with high energy and for a moment I was concerned about Jonathan Ehrlick, who plays Theo, the husband of the aforementioned woman. He began with such speed that I missed a lot of his dialogue at the beginning; but I am going to put this down to first night nerves because as the show progressed, he very much warmed into the character and was a delight to watch. His pent-up energy, his German accent and his commitment to the character were strong and grounded. Although I am not sure if a wardrobe malfunction had occured, there was some irony in him berating his wife for her indiscretion when his fly was down throughout the whole show!

Jenessa Grant played the central character of Louise with such grace and ability. The character was so three-dimensional and she allowed us to root for her throughout the whole show. Chrissi Chau had an excellent role as Gertrude and played it to the full. Aaron Rothermund was delightful as the poetic Versati, and Elliot Paul was pitch perfect as Klinglehoff – but Mark Waters as Cohen was a real standout for me. He played this part in a beautifully understated way, and I thought his comic timing was perfect.

It really was an ensemble piece – the whole cast was strong and very much in touch with their physicality on the stage, which I find is something often forgotten in plays. I loved Rothermund’s cat-like movements across the stage compared to the contained frustrations of Ehrlick. These made wonderful contrasts with each other, as did Chau and Grant when expressing their sexuality.

The show is clever and entertaining, and it touches on aspects of sexuality, sexism, fidelity, art and fame in ways that are very relevant to our society. I found the discussion between the husband and the poet on how to define a man as particularly interesting dialogue and superbly delivered by the actors. Much the same where the character of Louise realises it is fame that she misses, in a way that seems to parallel much of the 15-minute wonders we are subjected to in today’s YouTube world.

The staging was simple yet effective, but I would have liked a few more costume changes and attention to detail – especially because I think the quality of the script and actors deserved to have a standard of design as high as their acting. But the Red Sandcastle Theatre is a perfect venue for this play and I am glad to have discovered both the play and the venue.

Evan Harkai is clearly a strong director and the piece really picked up the pace as the show continued. I really hope they get the audience they deserve for this show, and that the Toronto community continues to welcome them to our city.

Details:

Montreal theatre company, Coffeehouse Theatre, presents the wildly hilarious comedy, “The Underpants”,

adapted by Steve Martin and directed by Evan Harkai.

September 16, 17, 18, 22, 23 and 24. 8PM

2PM Matinees Sept 23,24

Tickets $15 for students and $18 for adults.

Red Sandcastle Theatre Box Office: call 416-845-9411.

For more information visit www.coffeehousetheatre.com