WASHINGTON, D.C. — Inspired by German satirist Carl Sternheim’s epic trilogy, “Scenes from the Heroic Lives of the Middle Classes,” playwright David Ives brings his delicious wit to stage once more in “The Panties, The Partner and the Profit,” onstage at D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre though January 6th.
Ives, in one final collaboration with Shakespeare Theatre’s Artistic Director Michael Khan (“The School for Lies”), has penned a hilarious and thought provoking social commentary that is perfect comic fare during this holiday season. During this chaotic time in today’s political world, the play could not be mounted at a better time when one could use a good laugh to keep from crying.
The original trilogy, set at the top of the 20th century, centered on a lower class family called the Masks, who in the first and most well-known play, “The Underpants,” are attending a royal parade when wife, Louise, causes a sensation when her panties drop to the ground.
Ives Americanizes the trilogy, and six actors superbly play three different parts over the course of the evening in three separate, but related, plays about a family over three generations, from 1950s Boston to 1980s New York to Malibu today.
With excellent direction by Khan, the first scene, “The Panties,” is set in Boston. Louise (Kimberly Gilbert) is a Devout Roman Catholic and her husband, Joseph, (Carson Elrod) is a lower middle-class sanitation worker and Ralph Kramden-type complainer. When the elastic on Louise’s panties fail while watching a parade in Boston Common, she bends over to pull them off and put them into her purse. Her actions mortify her husband, who is unaware that she also has caught the attention of two other men.
When the couple return home, where they are renting out two rooms, Louise is the talk of the town. Immediately, two potential suitors show up to rent out the rooms to be close to her, and the complications and zaniness begins.
The play follows two more generations of the Masks, with the second story, “The Partner,” set decades later in 1987 with the social-climbing son of the Masks making millions on Wall Street. The third play, “The Profit,” is set in Mailbu today where the Mask grandchildren have become rich, powerful and famous. Along the way, the audience is treated to a comic look at how the Mask family’s values shift and change, and how lies, deception and greed come into play.
As Louise, Gilbert is hilarious as a drab and unhappy lower middle-class wife who, on the outside, professes to love her husband, but secretly imagines putting a drill into his heart. In the second play, she transforms into that same woman 35 years later, grown a bit dotty. In the third story, she is a wealthy, idle, single, not very bright and self-involved Malibu beach-house owner.
Elrod superbly plays the over-bearing Joseph in the first play, then the same character 35 years later, only to play in the third play a gender-fluid, spoiled rich young man in his 20s living in California.
Rounding out the talented cast is Julia Coffey as Trudy Reezner, a sex-starved lower middle-class single woman with romantic fantasies who also rents a room from the Masks and who later plays Sybil Rittenhouse, a sexed-up but very Waspish upper-class woman with Wall Street connections. In the third play, Coffey plays Sophie Mask, the fabulously rich CEO of a global industrial-technological and communications empire in the world of today.
As one of the suitors in the first play, Tony Roach is wonderful as the handsome Jock Revere, an upper-class Boston ladies’ man who speaks in sweeping narcissistic comic arias. Roach later transforms into the patrician of an old and traditional Wall Street firm. In the third play, he plays Jack Revere, a buff California furniture mover who again breaks into high-flying mystical arias.
The talented cast also includes Kevin Isola who plays the second suitor in the first play, and as a nerdy Jewish barber brings a great geekiness to the role. He transforms delightfully into Christian Mask, a New York Wall Street climber of the 1980s who wants power, even if he has to kill. Isola transforms again into Rabbi Mandelstam, a loosey-goosey California rabbi of today.
In the final role, Turna Mete plays a fit, young scientist looking for lodgings in the first play, then plays the spoiled, rich and not very bright daughter of a respected Wall Street patrician. In the third play, Mete plays a young and rather loony California psychologist.
The charm of this Ives piece is his witty commentary on social class and the excellent acting that will keep you thoroughly engaged. The play runs for one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.