Late Bloomers: ‘The Underpants’ closes Perseverance Theatre’s 40th season

Shadow Meienberg, Aaron T. Moore and Kelly Gibson rehearse “The Underpants,” a farcical play written by Steve Martin ahead of its May 17 opening. (Courtesy Photo

Perseverance Theatre’s season-closing show is a farcical comedy, but the play doesn’t bury some big ideas and its beating heart under many layers.

While “The Underpants,” which opens May 17, is a silly show written by Steve Martin based on an early 20th century German comedy, the show’s director Teresa K. Pond, and Kelly Gibson, who plays the wearer of plot-driving undergarments Louise, said it’s more thoughtful than that description would indicate.

“It’s a farcical romp with a sentimental soul,” Gibson said. “There’s a humanness we can all related to, and the journey of the self.”

Those expecting a wild and crazy time based on the Martin name may be surprised by “The Underpants,” Pond said.

“People don’t always realize that Steve Martin the actor and Steve Martin the writer are different critters,” Pond said. “I think the thing that stays consistent is our relationship to sex and life and relationships. I don’t know that we’ve progressed too much since 1910.”

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While an accidental public display of unmentionables serves as the catalyst for the show’s plot, both actor and director said the show doesn’t invite leers or lascivious attitudes.

That’s because of both writing that treats Louise as a fully fleshed out character rather than just a character with flesh, and 1910-style underwear.

“The time period, the actual physical clothing of that time period, I think it softens it in a way,” Gibson said. “I think what we talked about a lot that it’s important for audiences to know is that for my character, Louise, it really is about her journey and all of these other kind of male energies are coming at her, and she’s kind of like this little pinball in the middle of it all.”

“Even more than it being about wanting the underwear and what’s underneath it and that lustfulness — there is that aspect of it — but there’s also a higher sense of people’s wants and dreams and desires on a bigger level,” she added.

That means there are some jokes that might not be appropriate for young children, and Perseverance Theatre recommends the show for audiences age 10 and up.

The show also examines the separation between what people want to display publicly and the interior lives that they’d rather keep hidden.

“How we present ourselves is a lot like what we wear, and underwear by the definition of the term is a very private thing,” Pond said. “What I love is this inciting thing that kicks this whole story off is so random. We never get an answer for why the underwear fell down. They fell down, and everybody’s lives shifted. It merely kicked the doors open and opened the floodgates for people who are married to find a new level to what that means. Other people who gravitate to the situation get to discover what they had inside themselves.”

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Shelly Wright, costume shop manager for Perseverance Theatre and costume designer for “The Underpants,” said care was taken when creating ensembles to communicate how characters wish to be perceived.

That included designing outfits for a straight-laced civil servant, a Jewish barber, a French poet and creating the titular undergarment.

“It was very fun designing clothes for the show because of the time period,” Wright said. “All of these personalities made it very fun. When you look at them, you see their personalities.”

KNOW & GO

What: “The Underpants”

When: May 17-June 16. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. There will be an additional 7:30 p.m. Wednesday show June 5. There will be pay-what-you-can previews at 7:30 p.m. May 14 and 16. Beer Friday, with a pre-show reception sponsored by Alaskan Brewing Co., is May 24.

(Under) Where: Perseverance Theatre, 914 3rd St., Douglas.

Admission: $33-$41 for adults, $28-$39 for seniors and military, $19-$27 for students; reserve seats at www.ptalaska.org or by calling 463-8497.

May 19 and 23 performances are pay what you can; Juneau Arts Night — 50 percent off all tickets — is Wednesday, June 5.

• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

Shadow Meienberg, Aaron T. Moore and Kelly Gibson rehearse “The Underpants,” a farcical play written by Steve Martin ahead of its May 17 opening. (Courtesy Photo | Perseverance Theatre)

Kelly Gibson, Aaron T. Moore and Shadow Meienberg rehearse “The Underpants,” a farcical play written by Steve Martin ahead of its May 17 opening. (Courtesy Photo | Perseverance Theatre)

Kelly Gibson, Aaron T. Moore and Shadow Meienberg rehearse “The Underpants,” a farcical play written by Steve Martin ahead of its May 17 opening. (Courtesy Photo | Perseverance Theatre)

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