Start with a title like The Underpants and you get an automatic cackle, or at least a heehee or a ha-ha. More of the latter is elicited by North Coast Rep's production of a broad comedy adapted by Steve Martin. Yes, that Steve Martin—comedian, actor, banjo player, novelist and, in this case, playwright. Martin's The Underpants is based on German expressionist Carl Sternheim's 1910 morals-busting play Die Hose. It has its moments, but excuuuuuuze me, Mr. Martin, The Underpants is a funnier title than it is a show.
Though it premiered 10 years ago off Broadway, The Underpants is just now having its San Diego premiere, directed by Mark Pinter and opening North Coast Rep's 31st season. Set in Dusseldorf shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the play waffles uneasily between anti-establishment commentary and near-slapstick. When oppressed (and suppressed) wife Louise (Holly Rone) accidentally drops her underpants during a town parade for the king, stuffy and chauvinistic husband Theo (Matthew Henerson) harrumphs and goes to the toilet a lot (actually, too much), while two turned-on witnesses to Louise's mishap (Jacob Bruce and Omri Schein) vie for the married couple's room for rent. Louise's upstairs crony Gertrude (Clarinda Ross) pops in to encourage her frustrated friend's infidelity—and discovers that there's another side to blustering Theo.
It's all sincerely overplayed. Schein seems to be auditioning for a Mel Brooks picture. Bruce, one of the aspiring lovers in the first four scenes, goes all Will Ferrell in the final scene as the monocle-wearing king. The sweet-faced Rone comes to resemble a horny Mary Poppins. Consummate pro Jonathan McMurtry turns up as a third would-be renter, but too late to elevate the proceedings above good time had by all.
The zaniness has Martin's stamp on it, but as with some of his own performing shtick, it's hit-and-miss. There isn't one sight gag here as howling as Navin R. Johnson's "The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!" exultation in The Jerk. As for mocking the neo-priggishness of our times, The Underpants is rather flimsy.
The show runs through Sept. 30 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $36-$41. northcoastrep.org
Scandal in the St. Florian Valley: Chronos Theatre Group presents an absurdist Slovenian farce written in 1908 about the Devil's visit to a small town. Opens Sept. 14 at Victory Theatre in Sherman Heights. chronostheatre.com
Eternally Bad: A workshop production of a musicalcomedy homage to mythological bad girls, with music by local blueswoman Candye Kane. Runs one night only, on Sept. 15. moxietheatre.com
Glengarry Glen Ross: David Mamet's searing play follows a handful of real-estate salesmen pitted against one another in a lose-and-your-fired contest. Opens Sept. 18 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Anything Goes : This plot of this farcical musical, involving hijinks on a passenger ship, almost doesn't matter; this one's all about the Cole Porter tunes. Through Sept. 8 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm Still in Therapy! : Yep, it's the one-man sequel to My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish, and I'm in Therapy! , written by and starring funnyman Steve Solomon. Presented by Le Roy Associates, it runs through Sept. 9 at the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza, Downtown.
Respect: A Musical Journey of Women : The evolution of women's roles in society is explored through past top-40 hits in this upbeat musical. Extended through Sept. 9 at the Lyceum Stage at Horton Plaza. lyceumevents.org
The Lion in Winter : It's Christmastime in 1183, and King Henry II must decide which one of his three sons will be his successor to the throne. Through Sept. 15 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
The Mystery Plays : The one-act plays in question are The Filmmaker's Mystery and Ghost Children and take their cues from Alfred Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone . Presented by Ion Theatre, it runs through Sept. 15 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
An Iliad : Homer's epic poem about the Trojan War is adapted, using contemporary language, into a one-man show by actor Denis O'Hare and director Lisa Peterson. Through Sept. 19 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
2 Across : A crossword puzzle is a metaphor for life in this comedy about a man and a woman riding an early-morning BART train. Through Sept. 23 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
A Midsummer Night's Dream: the Musical : The Bard's classic comedy meets popular music from the 1960s. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it runs through Sept. 23 at the San Dieguito Academy Performing Arts Center in Encinitas. intrepidshakespeare.com
See How They Run : This World War II-era farce, set in Britain, takes the mistaken-identity device and runs wild with it. Through Sept. 23 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Twelfth Night; or, What You Will : After a shipwreck, much love is professed and identities are mistaken on the Adriatic coast in Shakespeare's romantic comedy. Free performances runs through Sept. 23 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Inherit the Wind : The Old Globe takes on the classic fictionalized version of the true story of the Scopes "monkey trial," at the end of which a high-school teacher was convicted for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. The 1955 play used the trial as a parallel to the McCarthyism of the era. Through Sept. 25 in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Richard III : King Edward IV's malicious, manipulative, murderous little brother lusts for England's throne, takes it and presides over a reign of terror in Shakespeare's history play. Through Sept. 29 in The Old Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
As You Like It : If it's a case of mistaken identity, it must be the Bard. The story of lovebirds Rosalind and Orlando in the Forest of Arden is part of The Old Globe's 2012 Shakespeare Festival. Through Sept. 30 in the Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds : An abusive mother makes life difficult for her two daughters in this Pulitzer Prize-winning 1964 play. Runs through Sept. 30 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
The Underpants : In Steve Martin's adaptation of a 1910 farce, a man is flummoxed when his wife's underwear simply won't stay on. Runs through Sept. 30 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Perfect Wedding : In the opener of Scripps Ranch Theatre's 34th season, a man wakes up next to a naked, unfamiliar woman on his wedding day. Runs through Oct. 7 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Pippin : A boy prince searches for the meaning of life in this re-imagined version of the 1971 musical. Runs through Oct. 14 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
miXtape : Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Nov. 25 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Once Upon a Wedding : Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Runs on various dates through Dec. 13. onceuponaweddingthemusical.com
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net