After a season of almost unrelenting darkness, from the bleakness of Beckett's Texts for Nothing to the Holocaust-era Race and I Will Bear Witness to the current operatic adaptation of Kafka's nightmarish In the Penal Colony, Off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company (CSC) will lighten up a bit in the season to come. The biggest name in the mix is writer-actor-comedian Steve Martin, who is adapting Carl Sternheim's edgy, door-slamming farce The Underpants. Martin, who made it big as a comedian with the album "Let's Get Small" and has been a movie star since "The Jerk" (followed by such pics as "The Man with Two Brains," "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," "Father of the Bride" and "Pennies From Heaven") made theatrical waves in the 1990s with his comedy Picasso at the Lapin Agile, some one acts. The past couple of years have seen him return to Hollywood and concentrate on films, his art collection and numerous comic essays for the New Yorker, as well as a novella, "Shopgirl."
Playwright Sternheim was born in 1878 in Leipzig. After studying philosophy he co-founded "Hyperion" literary magazine and went on to write such plays as The Cassette and The Snob. After encountering moral outrage over some of his writing, Sternheim moved to Brussels and lived there until his death in 1942.
Though Martin's adaptation of Sternheim's best-known comedy is titled "The Underpants," more delicate translations have called it "Knickers" and "The Trousers." The play tells of a man who's mortally embarrassed when his wife's undies fall down during the procession of the King. Two gentlemen notice her predicament — and become immediately smitten with her. CSC artistic director Barry Edelstein will direct The Underpants, running March 20-April 28 at CSC (officially opening April 4).
Moving from private parts to severed parts, Neal Bell has adapted Mary Shelley's horror classic, "Frankenstein," into Monster. Rent director Michael Greif stages this world-premiere adaptation of a scientist who creates a human monstrosity and then can't control its actions. This version begins at sea, with Victor Frankenstein discovered on an ice floe. Monster opens the CSC season, beginning previews Jan. 15, opening Jan. 27 and running through Feb. 17, 2002.
In a quieter vein, director Anne Bogart is busy adapting the writings of Virginia Woolf into Room, with Bogart's SITI Company working on the piece at CSC. Ellen Lauren would star in the piece, no doubt focusing on "A Room of One's Own," which has already served as a solo vehicle for Eileen Atkins. Bogart's other projects have included bobrauschenbergamerica by Charles L. Mee, staged at this-past season's Humana Festival in Louisville, KY. Speaking of Mee, his Humana hit the previous year, Big Love, was also under consideration but will not be part of the CSC season. According to a spokesperson at The Publicity Office, the season will have only three plays and not start until January 2002, though the space will be sublet for an outside production, Love.
For tickets and information on shows at CSC, 136 East 13th Street, call (212) 677-4210 or check out their website, www.classicstage.org.
— By David Lefkowitz