Sunday, October 14, 2007

I see Paris, I see France

Bumptious bloggers have reminded me that I posted a photo of Russell Parkman's set model for The Underpants weeks ago without ever making good on my promise to explain why. Well. Above is a photo of Russell's model; for a close-in peek of a more refined version, please check out my post of 9/25.

This is a play with a plot that turns on a series of maneuvers set in motion when young wife Louise’s lingerie slips down around her ankles at a very public event. Man after man starts showing up at Louise’s home, hoping to rent a room there under the oblivious eye of Theo, the stuffed shirt of a husband. And all the while the wacky upstairs neighbor eggs Louise on toward infidelity, encouraging her to revenge herself on her husband’s indifference by engaging in dalliances with the tenants. Hence, since feminine machinations drive the play forward, Rose (Rose Riordan, the play’s fearless directrix)wanted a living room in which men felt uncomfortable – out of their element, like visitors to a foreign country.

Look at that model; everything about it is sinuous, curvaceous. I don’t think there’s a right angle in Russell’s design. The confectionery colors suggest flounce and bounce. Even the wallpaper, dappled as it is with queen-sized cherries, suggests – or rather announces -- a comic longing for love or at least romantic adventure. (You have to click on the 9/25 image to see this.) Freud would be pleased; not only is he referenced within the first minutes of Steve Martin’s free adaptation of this play, he gets a set worthy of a libido run amok.

Here’s a little historical tie-in for you betwixt The Underpants and Cabaret. When the Nazis came to power (and Chris Coleman’s Cabaret ends with the ratification of Hitler’s government), one of their first official actions was to ban any artists perceived as “degenerate” or otherwise counter to the new order. This play’s original author, celebrated playwright Carl Sternheim, was certainly on the list.

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