At Secret Theatre, ‘The Underpants Godot’ works on many levels

At Secret Theatre, ‘The Underpants Godot’ works on many levels
Photo by Reiko Yanagi
By Steve Barnes

From the moment you’re handed your program, it is clear that “The Underpants Godot,” currently running at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, is an unusual production.

Instead of just one playbill, there are two. The outer one is for the show within the show, a production of “Waiting for Godot” being put on by a group called “Bleeding Unicorn Productions.” The inner one is for “The Underpants Godot” itself, and the relationship between those two programs pretty much encapsulates the story that Duncan Pflaster’s play tells. Named Best Play in the Secret Theater’s 2015 UNFringed Festival, it is at once a farcical look at the theater business, an examination of the problems involved in reinterpreting an author’s work and a look at how sexuality influences the way we look at art.

Oh, and as the title might lead you to expect, it is mostly performed by actors wearing little more than their underpants.

As the play begins, Douglas (Patrick Walsh), the director of the Beckett play within the Pflaster play, is seen dealing in a rather harried manner with the inevitable problems any director faces. Whether barking cues to the tech staff up in the booth or dealing with an actor who wants the rehearsal schedule changed so he can go home early, Douglas is a burst of comic energy, setting up a frantic, slapstick tone that becomes increasingly complicated as the story moves along.

Then the actors for the play within the play come in. Mark (Mark-Eugene Garcia), who portrays Vladimir in the Beckett play, and Tim (Roberto Alexander), who is Estragon, do their best to get into the mood of the piece. That attempt is first interrupted when Biff (Michael Andrew Daly), the production’s Pozzo, bursts in and begins making his attempts to reorganize everything.

But that interruption, it turns out, is the least of everyone’s problems. Soon a fully dressed intruder invades their space—Tara (Alyssa Simon), a representative of the Samuel Beckett estate. It seems that she has been informed about this scantily clad version of Beckett’s piece and is not at all pleased. She wants to get a look at what’s going on, so that she can decide whether or not the production can continue.

This sets off a chain of conflicts and discussions. While Tara and Douglas head offstage to hash out their difficulties, the actors are left alone to talk about how they view the play itself, the whole idea of so-called cutting-edge directors continually reinventing plays and the ways in which one’s personal life collides with what happens on stage.

The resulting monologues and interchanges are both amusing and enlightening. From a discussion of the endless versions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to an analysis of the merits of the “Batman” films directed by Joel Schumacher, each actor is given his moment in the spotlight to tell his own story and pass his own judgment on this production of “Waiting for Godot.”

In fact, the fate of the production itself becomes secondary to the surrounding stories of its characters. While the resolution of that fate is certain to amuse, it is the interchanges between those characters that the audience is most likely to remember.

The acting, as in the Secret’s production of “The Merchant of Venice,” is of a uniformly high quality. Simon, as the Beckett estate representative, has the comic timing and loopy body language of a natural comedian, and she uses it to good effect here. Walsh, as the director, is equally funny.

And the play within the play’s actors, who are responsible for putting the word “underpants” in the title of this production, are all excellent as well. That includes Jason Pintar, who plays Kevin, the production’s Lucky. While quiet for most of the show, he finally blazes forth in a monologue that exhibits a sharp comedic sense.

One slight warning: During most of the play within the play, the actors are in their underpants, but at a few moments they dispense with even that last vestige of clothing. But given the show’s theme, even then they remain totally in character.

“The Underpants Godot” runs through Oct. 2 at The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. For more information, go to www.secrettheatre.com/underpantsgodots.html.