I see London, I see France …Actors’ ‘Underpants’ a grown-up cartoon

‘The Underpants’
Starring Bethany Caputo, Anthony R. Haigh, Jonathan Hammond, Tony Hoty, Michael Keyloun, Triney Sandoval and Brandy Zarle. Directed by BJ Jones. Continues through Oct. 27 at Actors Theatre of Louisville. For more information, call 584-1205 or visit actorstheatre.org.

Underpants: Photo by Harlan Taylor  Jonathan Hammond and Bethany Caputo bring on the laughs in Actors Theatre’s “The Underpants.”

Underpants: Photo by Harlan Taylor Jonathan Hammond and Bethany Caputo bring on the laughs in Actors Theatre’s “The Underpants.”

Something’s been let out of the bag at Actors Theatre. Its latest production, “The Underpants,” written by Carl Sternheim and adapted by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin), is adding to already strong evidence that fun is being allowed to run rampant throughout the venerable institution this season. Zany, risqué and even a little sexy, this romp of a show makes for a most convivial evening at the theater.

The play has a terrifically simple premise: Homemaker Louise Maske’s underpants accidentally fall down in public, and two men are so taken with the sight, they move into a room for rent in Maske’s house. Steve Martin was a natural to adapt the play, which was initially censored and then produced in 1911 in Berlin. He stocks it with double entendres and highlights situations that recall the best moments from his acting portfolio.

Guest director BJ Jones deserves a hearty round of applause for such a thoroughly realized production. In a satirical comedy like this, the characters are intended to be more representative than real. If it’s not played accordingly, the commentary of the playwright gets lost and the production most likely will fall flat. Not so here. Watching the show leaves no doubt that Jones successfully communicated his vision with each person involved — the play drips with the sarcasm and absurdity Sternheim surely intended.

Resident scenic designer Paul Owens has really outdone himself this time. The moment the house facades that overlook Maske’s living room light up, replete with Peeping Tom “eyes” and “mouths” in surprised “O” shapes, the audience knows it is in for wacky ride. With its window and doorframes set at skewed angles, and even a floor rug that resembles a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, the set is delightfully cartoonish. I’m usually impressed with Owens’ sets, but he and director Jones must’ve really clicked. The best set not only echoes but also helps complete the director’s vision. Owens’ set perfectly complements Jones’ directorial vision without overshadowing it.

Sound design, by Benjamin Marcum, also contributes to the Bugs Bunny-like atmosphere by having classical music stand in for dialogue during several sequences, and giving inanimate objects, like the settee, sound effects. The German national anthem bit is not only hilarious, but also adds more fuel to Sternheim’s sociopolitical fire.

Certainly, Jones has a talented cast with which to work. Bethany Caputo (Louise Maske) is one of the most endearing actresses in recent memory to appear on an ATL stage, and Triney Sandoval (Theo Maske), as her piggish husband, is the perfect foil. Michael Keyloun (Benjamin Cohen) whines, whimpers and swoons with right-on comic timing (the blue and white hanky is a priceless touch), and Tony Hoty (Klinglehoff) makes a memorable, albeit small, appearance.

In fact, Jonathan Hammond (Frank Versati) is the only cast member who doesn’t quite succeed. This is primarily because he almost breaks character every time he gets a laugh from the audience, a la Jimmy Fallon during his days on “Saturday Night Live.”