Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Jared Jeffries, right, as Theo Maske, attempts to seduce neighbor Gertrude Deutre, played by Terri Seeborg in Manoa Valley Theatre's "The Underpants."

Dropped bloomers
make woman a star

The truth was bound to get out, and that is, women's underwear is a subject of boundless fascination for men.

"The Underpants"

Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre

Where: 2833 E. Manoa Road

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Fridays, through Aug. 1.

Tickets: $25 general, $20 for seniors and military, $15 for ages 25 and younger

Call: 988-6131

Prince brought bustiers, garter belts and stockings out of the pages of gentlemen's magazines to pop music when he introduced the lingerie-clad Apollonia 6 in 1984; Madonna then went through her period of wearing lingerie or less, and the bra and the bustier have since become so mainstream as outer-wear that some American women now provoke notice by deliberately displaying the tops of their panties or thongs.

But, for all that public display of brassieres and thongs, hetero men -- I'm ashamed to confess -- still strive to catch a glimpse of underwear that isn't on public display.

Imagine then what the reaction would have been in 1910 -- back when women in the United States and Europe were allowed to show only slightly more skin than women in Afghanistan today -- if a woman's underpants fell down in public one day, lying on the street for all to see.

That is the calamity that befalls Louise Maske, a beautiful but unhappily married woman in "The Underpants," opening today at Manoa Valley Theatre.

"She did not intend it to happen but they fell down and she stepped out of them, and (suddenly) everyone's attracted to her," said Kyra Poppler, who's starring as Louise.

The story -- a farce about middle-class prudishness, materialism and morality -- is comedian/dramatist Steve Martin's reworking of a 1910 play by German playwright Carl Sternheim that shocked Germany. Before the invention of elastic, when women's "unmentionables" were secured with a drawstring, they could -- in theory anyway -- become undone and fall to the ground at an inopportune moment.

Louise's husband is convinced that his wife's wardrobe malfunction will cost him his government clerk job, but instead, she becomes an instant celebrity -- the Gennifer Flowers or Monica Lewinsky of her day. Several men vie to rent a spare room in the Maskes' home in hopes of fulfilling the lascivious fantasies kindled by the sight of her dropped drawers.

"Now days it's more likely to have (the panties) not be there," Poppler says, weighing the ever-changing perception of what constitutes scandalous behavior. Whatever the definition of "scandalous" may be at a point in time, the fame that comes with such exposure is limited.

"Today, everyone is having their 15 minutes (of fame) with the latest scandal. Like Britney Spears getting married and then not getting married, and then getting married again. How long is (the interest) gonna last? How long will there be interest in her? Or Monica Lewinsky? They're notorious for a while and then it's fleeting."

"The Underpants" also features Jared Jeffries as Theo Maske; David Starr, Steven Neumeier and F.L. Cabacungan portray three men whose lives are changed by Louise's accident; and Terri Seeborg completes the cast as a voyeuristic neighbor, Gertrude Deuter, who encourages Louise to enjoy her notoriety.

PLAYWRIGHT Sternheim was apparently contemptuous of the conservative morals and social mores of his day, and "Die Hose" -- a double entendre in German that can refer to either trousers or underwear -- was an indictment of the German middle class. In the original work, Theo is an ignorant boor who nonetheless comes out a winner. Martin shifted the balance of the story in ways that make it more palatable to contemporary Americans.

"In Sternheim (Theo and Gertrude) do sleep together, and in Steve Martin they don't ... and in the beginning (of this version) my husband is yelling at me, and in Sternheim he is beating me with a stick. It would have been funny in 1910 but it wouldn't be funny in 2004," says Poppler.

The role is her biggest since she graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and her third show of the 2003-04 season at MVT. She was an ensemble member in "The Laramie Project" last summer, and gave a noteworthy performance as sultry Lt. Ramirez in MVT's ambitious presentation of "Gunfighter" this spring. In "The Underpants" she'll be on stage for almost the entire show.

"It feels pretty cool (to be the center of the story) but I don't feel like the lead. It's a really small cast and everyone has their own storyline so I don't feel like the focus.

Nevertheless, you can guess where all eyes will be.

Manoa Valley Theatre

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