Sunday’s matinee of The Underpants was followed, as is usual in the second week of the run, by a Talkback. A special guest joined director Ginette Mohr, producer Jennifer McKinley and the cast on the edge of the stage: Judy Darragh, who played Louise in a very different version of The Underpants for Alumnae Theatre Company in 1967!
Because of our long history, it was decided in our 2009/10 season to start a “Countdown to 100” – each season we’d re-stage a play from our past, leading up to our 100th anniversary in 2019/2020 when we will present Molière’s Les Femmes Savantes, which was Alumnae’s very first production in February 1918. This season’s “Countdown to 100” play is The Underpants, previously produced (in a 1950’s translation of Carl Sternheim’s 1910 German original) at Alumnae Theatre Company’s previous home: a converted synagogue known as the Coach House Theatre, on Cecil Street.
Here are some questions from the audiences, and responses – as best as I could capture.
Q: This is one of the best things I’ve seen at Alumnae in a long time, and I’ve been around a long, long time! How did Andrew Anthony prepare for the first scene in the play, when Theo is berating Louise for shaming him by accidentally dropping her underpants in public?
A (Andrew Anthony): I experimented. There was staccato yelling but I also wanted to convey the sick-in-stomach feeling.
Q (from a child): Why did you make it funny?
A (Ginette Mohr): Because I think people like to laugh. Don’t you?
Carolyn Hall (who played underpants-losing Louise) asked a question about sound designer/composer Aaron Corbett’s process.
A (Aaron Corbett): I looked at composers from that era , but Chopin didn’t exactly bring the funny. So I did what I often do for inspiration: watched a lot of cartoons.
A (Andrew Anthony): We’d already worked out the scene structure before the music came in.
A (Michael Gordin Shore, who plays hypochondriac barber Cohen): It changed everything, and we had to choice but to “dance with the music” with our words.
Producer Jennifer McKinley asked set & lighting designer Jacqueline Costa about her inspiration.
A (Jacqueline Costa): I didn’t try to stay with the period necessarily. I was interested more by Bauhaus, which is about 10 years after the play is set – linear shapes with splashes of colour, lots of doors (which are essential in a farce), levels – I designed a jungle gym for the actors to play on.
A (Andrew Anthony): We rehearsed in different space [the 3rd floor Studio at Alumnae Theatre, due to accessibility renovations on the Main Stage], so the floor was taped out with the levels and stairs, but it was a totally different size and shape from this stage. We had to get used to the timing (distances) and even the way the doors swung open!
A (Michael Gordin Shore): Three days before opening, there was still a hole in the brick wall to the parking lot, and layers of sawdust and plaster dust on everything.
Q: Tell us about casting the play. Did the actors audition for the roles they now have?
A (Michael Gordin Shore, with tongue in cheek): I wanted to be cross-gender cast as Louise, but I couldn’t persuade Ginette.
A (Carolyn Hall): I wanted to be Versati.
A (Andrew Anthony): I did not think I would be cast as Theo – he’s described as “a burly fireplug”! [Andrew is tall and thin]
A (Ginette Mohr): Scott ‘s [Farley – who plays Versati] physicality in the audition sold me –he used every level in the room!
A (Jacqueline Costa): I was helping out as a reader one night, and read Kiinglehoff opposite an actress auditioning for Louise. As a reader, you should never steal the show, but I couldn’t turn off my “acting brain”, and I completely overpowered her. Apologized profusely to Ginette afterwards, but she offered me the role of Klinglehoff.
Q: Were you considering men for Klinglehoff?
A (Ginette Mohr): Oh, yes.
A: Good choice [to cast Jacqueline]!
Producer Jennifer McKinley complimented the cast on soldiering past the adversity caused by construction, etc. and the actors started to tell stories about their dressing room shenanigans.
Scott Farley: My favourite moment in the dressing room is helping Chantale [Groulx, who plays nosy neighbour Gertrude] into her dress. She holds up her arms like a 3-year old and you slide the dress over while she says “watch the hair, watch the hair!”.
Q: How did Scott come up with the voice of the King?
A (Scott Farley): At the first read-through, I did a terrible German accent, then did a lot of research on the real guy he’s based on – Kaiser Wilhelm II [Scott barks “Vil-helm!” loudly in a parody of a German accent]. There were like nine million portraits of him, and in all of them he’s looking haughty and regal [Scott poses]. Then I found out that he was born with a withered arm, partially deaf, and suffered from balance issues that made it difficult to ride a horse. So there was a real disconnect between his personal problems and the image he projected. I wanted a contract between the look and his voice. I tried a high, nasal voice projected behind pursed lips. Ginette suggested a modification, and that’s what I went with. [Bloggergal’s note: all this for a character who is onstage only for one brief scene. Acting: it’s not just play!]
Q: How did you progress Louise from passive to finding her own voice?
A (Carolyn Hall): I kind of struggled in early rehearsals – I had to find the balance between Louise as a woman of her time, and also standing up for herself. She moves from dreamy and accepting to – because she always has that within her – the other characters setting off a boiling point.
A (Judy Darragh, who played Louise in 1967 production): “Actively passive” is a good phrase. Louise has that spark in her; it’s not just Gertrude [who encourages the unloved Louise to have an affair] setting it off.
Q: Compliments to the costume designer [Sarah Joy Bennett] – I liked the details: hats, corsets, spats, etc.
Q: What were the differences between the script performed in 1967 and this one [written by Steve Martin]?
A (Judy Darragh): Oh, it’s very different! It started with Theo banging Louise’s head against the table because she lost her underpants. I had to hang onto my wig every night. It’s been too long to remember everything, but I remember that Gertrude and I had a lot of fun. We performed in a little 80-seat former synagogue, and it was a good experience.
Q: Do you still act?
A (Judy Darragh): I’d love to, but I live far away, and it’s just not feasible to drive downtown on the highways (so much construction and delays always on the Gardiner and DVP) for rehearsals and performances.
The Talkback ended with Ginette giving a shout-out to her assistant director, Caitlin English.
Four more chances to catch The Underpants – Wed to Sat at 8pm. Tickets are 2-for-1 on Wed; $20 on other nights. Reserve seats and pay cash on arrival by e-mailing Reservations@alumnaetheatre.com , or purchase tickets online at www.alumnaetheatre.com. Closing Sat Oct 5!