Fans of "Saturday Night Live" know how uneven comedy can be: One minute you're rolling on the floor with mirth, the next you're impatiently awaiting the next laugh.
Comedian Steve Martin, that "wild and crazy guy," has been a frequent "SNL" guest, and watching his play "The Underpants" is a bit like watching the NBC show. There are inspired bits of lunacy — but there are just as many stretches where not much is going on.
In 2002, Martin adapted "The Underpants" from a 1910 German farce by Carl Sternheim. There's a huge cultural gap, though, between modern American humor and the century-old source material. At UCF, director Kate Ingram never quite overcomes the play's weak moments.
Many of the big laughs depend on the audience's willingness to put a sexual spin on questions such as "Is the sausage in the oven?" or "How often is the chimney swept?" It has to be said that Martin has a winning way with the wink-wink innuendo. Ingram gussies that up with fun physicality — characters embrace, spin apart, fall to their knees with abandon.
Sex is on everybody's mind because the story, set in 1910 Dusseldorf, centers on young wife Louise, whose underpants fell down her legs while the German king passed by. Her "traditional" husband — a raging sexist by today's standards — wants to take in lodgers to augment his income. Unbeknown to him, the two men who move in both witnessed the underpants incident and are now enamored with Louise.
It's a classic farce set-up, but the audience doesn't get the expected payoff. Louise's husband is so despicable — calling her the "little housewife," demanding his dinner — that you may bristle rather than laugh. And a running gag about a Jewish man denying his heritage eventually grows uncomfortable. Martin clearly wants us to laugh at how stupid this German man is for hating Jews, but it's impossible to forget the horrifying results of that mindset.
Daniel Annone is endearing as the nerdy Jewish lodger Ben "Cohen with a K." But others don't fare as well. Courtney Kaye Kirby has a youthful innocence that doesn't match her worldly neighbor role. As Louise, Olivia Grace Murphy veers haphazardly between naïve and calculating so we're never really sure how she feels. Jeff Nathan toughs it out in the thankless part of the husband.
Only Jesse Hinton, who gave a solid dramatic performance in last season's "Good Boys and True," gets a chance to shine. He plays an Italian poet, one of the men smitten with Louise. It's the type of flamboyant farcical role — with wildly rolling R's, extravagant hand gestures and silly poses — that requires an actor to dive in without fear. Hinton does just that and deservedly scores the night's biggest laughs.
• What: A Theatre UCF production of the Steve Martin comedy
• Length: 2:15, including intermission
• Where: Theatre UCF, 4000 Central Florida Blvd., Orlando
• When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 5
• Tickets: $20, $18 seniors, $10 students
• Call: 407-823-1500Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun