'The Underpants' goes above and beyond for laughs

In an era when thong underwear seem to be perpetually peeking out of the top of women's low-slung pants, it's hard to imagine that undergarments could elicit more than a raised eyebrow.

But at Capital Repertory Theater, laughter is the reaction caused by The Underpants, a play centered on a fictional event in which a woman in 1910 Germany stands on tiptoe to watch the king pass in a parade " and inadvertently drops her drawers.

"The audience will be surprised at how much they'll laugh," said Kurt Zischke, as he took five in a rocking chair in the Pearl Street lobby of the Albany theater.

Zischke plays Theo, the bureaucrat husband in "The Underpants" whose wife's wardrobe malfunction has made her a celebrity. His concern that he will lose his job over the incident leads him to try to rent a room in their house " which is sought after by men who witnessed the bloomer blooper.

"The show has outrageous, funny and cleanly etched characters," Zischke said. "There's also an undercurrent of depth " the play will resonate with you."

"The Underpants" is an updated version of a German play called "Die Hose" by Carl Sternheim, whose writings regularly addressed the state of fixed-minded, mid-level bureaucrats. The update comes from one of America's more popular comedians " Steve Martin.

"It's still set in 1910 Germany, but there's a nod toward contemporary things," Zischke said. "It's more about celebrity and less about class struggle."

The play's director, Michael Haney, said Martin brought more of a feminist angle into the play.

"Louise, the wife who loses her underpants, is young and innocent at the beginning," Haney said. "She grows and learns a lot about her own power, and blossoms into a modern woman."

Zischke praised Haney's "deft hand" in presenting the play, and on the day after the first preview, both men were working to incorporate the audience's reaction into their presentation of the show.

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