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Big Idea Theatre wins with “The Underpants”

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One of the most difficult things to achieve in live theater is the ability to remove the audience from reality and deposit them in a world that exists within four walls and a handful of professional pretenders.

Big Idea Theater certainly acheived that goal and also continued their brilliant streak with Steve Martin’s adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s “The Underpants,” an irreverent, sexy comedy that forces the audience to forget their worries and rewards them with guffaws of joy and shakes of giggles.

The play centers around a husband played by Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly and wife (Joelle Wirth) who have the misfortune of gathering unwanted attention at a king’s parade in Germany in the early 1900s. The play unfolds as renters (Joshua Glenn Robertson and Jouni Kirjola) come to the the house, obsessed with the lonely stay-at-home wife. The easily titillated upstairs neighbor (Kellie Yvonne Raines) doesn’t help affairs either when she offers to make sensual underpants for her friend.

The script showcases the amazing talents of one of today’s excellent wordsmiths.  The barbs aimed at both sex and society are tipped with laughter-inducing venom, and the constant availability of one-liners and poignant witticisms makes discussion after the performance all the more interesting. Often a cross between something like Oscar Wilde’s commentary on society and Gypsy Rose Lee’s burlesque, the lines and energy of the actors build to a well deserved climax.

Weak performances were nonexistent. Each character hit their mark, especially the pre-show and intermission performances by the silent vaudeville-inspired Clown (Big Idea heavy-hitter, Justin D. Muñoz), a character added by director Benjamin Ismael, who also doubled as an onstage sound-effects man. Ismael will play Muñoz’s role on Aug. 21.

The crazy antics of the leading lady and her timing-perfect co-star neighbor brought down the house with carefully timed maneuvers that came off as second nature. The under-garment-obsessed renters, quibbling over the wife, made hilarious circumstances even more so, and kept the audience tuned in with dialectical subtlety and awesome physical gags.

However, when I thought I could laugh no harder, the final character came on in full form, an old man (Gary Pannullo) that had the audience laughing for full minutes without uttering a single word. His hunched, ramshackle appearence made for a brilliant wonder and his strong accent and bursts of excited squeeling added a fantastic layer to the masterpiece.

The set, by designer Brian Watson, was a fantastic mixture of interwoven sight gags as well as just being aesthetically pleasing. The lights, designed by Nic Candito and Owen Smith, proved effective and changed flawlessly with the arcs of the play.

The play runs through Sept. 11. For more information, visit here.

MAX’S RATING: A HARD TIME BREATHING, A CONSISTENT SHAKE OF LAUGHTER AND A MARMALADE AMONG JAMS.

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