The Underpants at Custommade slips a bit

(Upper r to l) AJ Davenport and Riley Krull. (Lower l to r) Riley Krull, David Vega and Gabriel A. Ross in Steve Martin's The Underpants at onHector Zavala's attractive set at Custommade Theatre playing through Oct. 22.

THE UNDERPANTS: Farce an adaptation by Steve Martin of Carl Sternheim’s 1910 Die Hose. Directed by Herb Gelb., Custommade Theatre at Gough Street Playhouse, 1629 Gough Street in San Francisco. (510) 207-5774,

Custom Made Theatre Company Extends Run of Steve Martin’s The Underpants through October 30.


Prior to World War I, German Expressionism blossomed not only in the visual art but also in the written word and on stage. The core of Expressionism was (is) the basic and primal instinct of. . . sex. And uninhibited sexuality was the Bohemian lifestyle shunning ideas about women being the polar opposite of men with no creativity/intellect serving only to nurture the men. In this milieu, a farce titled Die Hose (in translation The Underpants) by Carl Sternheim was a big hit. Comedian Steve Martin, turned writer refashioned Sternheim’s farce and Custommade Theatre has mounted a raucous/ribald/romp.

Whereas French farce that also relies on intricate sexual shenanigans needs a minimum of four doors to keep the action flowing and hysterical, the Germans are content with physical activity to wring laughter from the audience. So it is with the present production directed Herb Gelb in an over-the-top format. If you are looking for an evening of non-intellectual fun laced with inoffensive sexual innuendo, wrapped in physical comedy creating a traffic jam on stage, go to the compact and attractive Custommade venue on Gough Street.

Theo (David Vega) and Louise (Riley Krull) are a respectable, cash strapped German couple. To balance the budget they have placed a “Room for Rent” sign in their window without takers. No takers, until (“Horrors” Theo shouts) Louise has physically, though unintentionally (??), dropped and quickly retrieved her underpants while standing in a crowd waiting to see the King appear in a downtown parade. Apparently they were not retrieved quickly enough since a “parade” of would be renters start to appear.

Versati (Paul Stout) an unpublished poet arrives complete with black cape, and we later learn dyed hair. The underpants have stimulated, among other things (“I want to go to sleep with you. It will only take a minute.”), his creative juices and his desire to make Louise his Muse. Add frills to his shirt cuff, have him flounce on stage and it would be a better set up for Theo’s line, "Why would a woman want a man who is like a woman -- a man should be at his desk". Martin sets up his zingers as a trademark of his writing style.

Next to enter is the smitten Cohen (Gabriel A. Ross). “Jewish?” Theo asks. “No. It’s Cohn. . . with a K.” “OK.” Theo splits the room in two and rents to both, thus setting up the competition between Cohn and Versati to get another look at the underpants . . . or is to get into her underpants?

Gertude (AJ Davenport) the sensual, full-bodied upstairs occupant has heard the goings on. Her visceral juices flow thinking about what Versati and Louise could be doing. She does her damnedest to aid Louise in getting the dastardly deed done.

Late in the second act one more potential renter, Klinglehoff (charming Michael Moerman in his Custommade debut) an old repressed scientist arrives. This sets up another Martin tongue-in-cheek truism, “Water still runs though rusty pipes.” I won’t tell you who the last potential renter is. Just think Deus Ex Machina of Greek tragedy.

Add a mask to Versati’s costume and Zorro is resurrected. Play a tango and images of Jose Greco appear. Stout as Versati isn’t quite up to Zorro or Greco but his exaggerated mannerisms as he throws his cape about while coming to grips with his poetic inspirations does bring raucous laughter.

Coleman as the meek and protective Cohen. . . sorry, that’s Kohen with a K. . . upstages the other members of the cast with his mobile face, puppy-dog eyes, unexpected pratfalls and rubbery legs reminiscent of Scarecrow from the “The Wizard of Oz .”

Vega’s physical presence as Theo can be described as Dom Deluise with muscle but without the comic timing. AJ Davenport as Gertrude often dominates the stage with her entrance and exits conveying her sexual suppression in a series of hot flashes.

Krull adequately portrays the subservient manner of the much put upon wife as Theo admonishes her, “Because you are much too attractive for a man in my position.” Throughout the play her reticence should ,but does not, build to rebellion level that would be an exclamation point to and give great meaning to her last line when she is ordered to put the rental room in order, “In my own time!”

Director Herb Gelb unsuccessfully attempts to wrest every ounce of humor from the lines but there is plenty of physical comedy to cover most of the deficiencies creating an evening of ribald fun.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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