Upon entering the auditorium at the University of Michigan- Flint campus viewers are approached by greeters who escort them to their seats and give them programs. Inside the program one will find notes from the director offering a background on the original author, Carl Sternheim, as well as on Steve Martin who adapted the play. The theatre has a proscenium stage that is adorned with set props that bring to life the home of Theo and Louise Maske.
An intimate setting with seats butting right up to the stage. In the background elegant music played softly, reminiscent of the era in which the play is set in. The chatter of the audience members fills the theater as viewers wait patiently for the show to begin. Just before the lights dim signaling the start to the play, anticipation is at its height with viewers talking about what to expect. Many boast about the humor that will surely be ahead, while others speak of the talented cast.
The set was a recreation of the quaint home of Theo and Louise, mainly in the living room and kitchen, and was a realistic representation. The walls were painted with an amber and burgundy rotating stripe pattern, while the floor remained the stage’s wooden appearance. The kitchen was set with a small round table and four chairs with a simple chandelier dangling above it, much more modest than expected. There was also a kitchen setup with a window. The door to the rental apartment was set just to the side of the kitchen, though not a full sized door.
In the living room sat two high back chairs with a small side table between them, an older black rod style bird cage, and a shelving unit with a few simple decorations scattered throughout. There was also a fireplace with a massive picture of Theo framed out above it, the main focus being him just as he’d preferred it. Up center stage sat the main door, and when open revealed the staircase that lead to Gertrude’s apartment. The overall lighting aspect in this play was of standard quality, no bells and whistles but that suited this play.
There was adequate visibility of all areas of the stage and the actors/actresses within them. The use of dimmed lights was utilized to represent the day change. Another thoughtful and impactful use targeted within this lighting design was the spot lights use in the beginning of the play highlighting Louise’s awestruck face. Viewers eyes were drawn to the only lit part of the stage and it immediately set the tone and mood of the play; the severity of the situation she found herself in at that moment.
The costumes used in his play were designed to be historically accurate of what these characters would have worn in the early 1900’s. The women of this play were conservatively dressed, but with form fitting dresses with that snuggled their silhouettes. Sadly there were no costume changes, this would have added another dimension to the costuming design in this play. Although the actual event of the underpants malfunction was not shown, viewers were fully aware of its occurrence and were painted a picture so bright that imagination could surely reproduce this scene in their minds.
The suit donned by Theo seemed to be a standard issue stock item, nothing fancy and slightly ill fitting with pants a little to tight and a hem line a little too short. Nothing at all as fancy and upscale as this self-professing important man who must keep up appearance would likely have worn. As viewers entered the theatre they were treated to softly playing music in the background. The use of this period specific music helped get viewers to get acclimated to the time in which the play is set.
It also served to promote thinking about what they will likely see within the course of the play. As for the sound in regards to the actors/ actresses, amplification was appropriate for the size of the theatre. Each actor/actress was easily and equally audible. The only real placed sound was lacking was in the beginning of the play when Theo began his initial rant to Louise about her mishap. In this particular instance the actor playing Theo was so loud, and spoke so fiercely and quickly, that his words became jumbled and lost at times.
However his actions and tone made it abundantly clear to the audience what was occurring. The actress and actors did a brilliant job in relaying the story to the audience with the verbal language and body language being consistent and realistic throughout the duration of the play. These actions added to the story telling process and made it easier for the audience to become captivated by the play. There were times during the play that viewers were expected to use their imagination such as with the stove and oven.
The stove and oven were only props and not actually in working order, though when dinner burnt it did in fact smoke like a real stove would by way of special effects usage. One of the conventions utilized in this play was with the use of lighting to signify the start and end to the play. The house is dark and suddenly light arises to show the actors in place on stage and the play begins, likewise the lights darkened to signify the end to the play as well. The play also used this same method to symbolize the changing of the days. Another common convention was in the stage presentation of the home.
It is understood that in plays the whole house will not likely be displayed because of limited space and therefore the audience must use imagination to fill in the pieces that are not displayed for us outright. The overall impression of this play was that it was a quality production. The gentle touch of humor used was just enough to keep viewers actively engaged and invested in the plot. I would highly recommend others to see this show. The Underpants is both lighthearted and fun while still addressing some very pertinent subject matters even in today’s society.