Louise Maske probably never thought an accidental slip of her undergarments would demonstrate just how far society has come since the early 20th century.
“The Underpants,” a play adapted by comedic actor Steve Martin from the 1910 farce by German playwright Carl Sternheim, has made its way to the Varsity Center for the Arts in a production by The Stage Company and invites audiences to observe what it would be like to have a slight mishap create ripples in governmental figurehead Theo Maske (James Earles) and wife Louise’s (Darcy Kreigsman) emerging middle-class life.
Originally set in Germany, director Christian Moe said Sternheim’s play contained philosophical discussions and dialogue that might not have made much sense to an American crowd, but Martin did a good job simplifying it while maintaining the overlying theme of the emerging woman and making it relatable to the American audience.
Moe said Sternheim’s play poked fun at the sensibilities, mores and manners of Germany’s emerging middle class like any typical farce might.
“Usually in a farce there are more slamming doors, ins and outs and plot complications,” he said. “This play has a fairly simple plot complication, but I think it works.”
The play sets the stage fairly quickly with government-employed Theo scorning his wife Louise for accidentally dropping her bloomers while waving at someone during the king’s parade. He calls her a slut. He says she ruined his image. He’s convinced that his floozy of a wife was more worried about being seen in public than keeping up with household duties.
Everyone noticed her, and it was her fault.
Considering the play was written and set in a time when women weren’t free to do much in society, it is amusing to watch the couple interact and attempt to recover from the mishap that could so easily have created a larger problem, said Fred Betz, former department of foreign language and trade chair and professor emeritus of German.
“We’re talking about a time when women weren’t liberated nor could vote,” he said. “We’ve come a long way since then, and Steve Martin is quite clever, so it was very entertaining to watch.”
Significant advances have been made with how society views and accepts women since those years, which has resulted in a more equal presence of women and men both at home and in the workplace, Chris McFadden, a junior from Marion studying criminal justice, said.
While this is probably the cause of an increase in both professional and openly provocative women over the years, the evolution is still an overall positive one, he said.
“Men have been able to do whatever they want to for a long time, so I’m all for equal rights for women to do the same,” he said.
McFadden said the increasing presence of women in the workforce has brought them very far in society, and he would be content even switching the normal gender roles around so his mate could be the breadwinner while he watched the house.
While Theresa Ross, a senior from Chicago studying social work, agreed that gender roles are more equal in today’s society, she would still prefer women to put a little more thought into what they wear and how they present themselves. She said while society might agree more with McFadden these days, she would still prefer both members of a committed relationship to be both the household’s breadwinners and caretakers.
“I just can’t see a man sitting on the couch eating crackers while I go work my behind off to provide for the whole family,” she said.
Even though today’s societal norms are flashier and a little more revealing, McFadden said people can still do too much.
“I see girls around school all the time who wear those yoga pants that are way too small and they’re not even wearing underwear,” he said. “I know it, and everyone else knows it too, so that’s when it goes too far.”
While women are absolutely free to do whatever they want with the acceptance that laws and society has given them, they deserve whatever criticism it might cause, McFadden said.
Men should receive the same judgment, but that won’t happen because of the underlying double standard that turns away whatever ridicule they should receive, Ross said.
That sexual double standard may be still be evident today, but it has been around for quite a long time, Catherine Gould, a graduate assistant in sociology, said in an email. She said the reason a double standard still exists is because of the same reasons people see racism and heterosexism.
“We just haven’t, or in many cases, refuse to confront the falsity of the ideas that support these forms of oppression and stopped rewarding behavior that supports them,” she said. “Unless we start confronting these things, the sexual double standard will linger on and on.”
Double standard or not, Mr. and Mrs. Maske will make a second appearance at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday on the Varsity’s stage.
Moe said the actors didn’t worry too much about the significant time difference between then and now. He said they just attacked their characters with the personality they had and the play took off from there.
“We tried to give it a touch of the feeling of time, but we didn’t want to stress it too much,” he said. “The idea of being able to take a script, just lines on a paper, and making it a whole and showing it to the audience is a creative process that I find exciting, and the most exciting thing is when it works.”