Chris Bennion

The Underpants

ACT Theatre

Through Nov 12.

The first of a six-play cycle called Comedies from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class by German playwright Carl Sternheim (died in 1942), The Underpants has been adapted and modernized by Steve Martin. In this, the first play of the cycle, a German bureaucrat (chauvinistic, arrogant, dreary) loses his shit when his wife (dreamy, smart, charming) accidentally loses her underpants in public. She was at a parade for the king, it was before elastic was invented, and her untied knickers drifted down to her ankles, delighting dozens of witnesses. One of them is a foppish poet (Matthew Floyd Miller), the other is a nervous barber (David Pichette). They both turn up to rent the same spare room from the bureaucrat for the purposes of wooing the wife. There is a nosy upstairs neighbor. At one point, the king appears. There are a lot of double entendres. It is, allegedly, a farce.

The production is too ponderous for the script, which isn't all that funny to begin with. Martin is at his best when he's making fun of clichés. The German bureaucrat: "I enjoy a philosophical question as much as the next fellow." The barber, taken aback, says he is the next fellow, and demands to know how the bureaucrat could know how much he enjoys a philosophical question. That line works, in part, because it's delivered by Pichette, who always plays the same sputtering, silly, constantly shocked character. That happens to be right for this production, where Pichette appears as himself costumed as the barber—a sickly, nervous Jewish barber who loves Wagner and tries to pass as a goy by saying his last name is "Cohen, with a K." The Germans all buy it. Stupid Germans. BRENDAN KILEY

W(h)acked: An Immorality Play

Live Girls! Theater

Through Nov 18.

I'm still not totally clear on what happened to me Friday night, but it involved gays, social anxiety, a free bottle of Bombay Sapphire, and my being poured into a cab at a shamefully early hour, at which time I interrogated the driver about the major imports and exports of his "homeland" and wondered, with great sensitivity, whether he longed to return there some day. Saturday found me in a state best described as "hangover death," but off I staggered to Ballard to see W(h)acked. I may or may not have barfed in a bag on the way there. (Twice.)

W(h)acked, by local playwright Stephanie Timm, begins with the tale of Lottie Limerick-Peevy (a porcelain Jess Smith), a sweet 19th-century Irish lass charged by God to aid womankind by dispatching wicked men. Cut to the present, when Lottie's cause is adopted by the Underground Very Secret Hush Hush Ladies' Serial Killer Club (UVSHHLSKC), a group of gals seeking to "take back the night and live free from fear." "I have the power to become the victimizer," says Abhorabelle. "I am looking to head up a Dismemberment Committee," proposes Revengaline. Murder candidates "must not eat dolphin-safe tuna," everyone efficiently agrees.

In a delightful bit of stagecraft, Lottie's portrait, lovely and serene, overlooks the proceedings offering occasional couplets of gory wisdom. The writing is tight (only rarely stumbling into the obvious: "So you don't think about Dick at all anymore?"), the comic timing impeccable (especially Angela DiMarco as Detesta), the denouement satisfying but sad.

This play did not cure my hangover. It did, however, captivate my attention and make me laugh, despite my insides' persistent mad dashes for freedom. And in that, W(h)acked is a miracle. LINDY WEST

tick, tick... BOOM!

ArtsWest Playhouse

Through Nov 4.

This musical was written by Jonathan Larson (Rent) as a one-man show. After Larson's sudden death—just hours before Rent opened off Broadway—it was adapted by David Auburn (Proof) into a production for three actors. With that pop-theater dream-team pedigree and tragically ironic backstory, it's unclear why the script is so profoundly horrible. The set design, basically a blown-up clock face, is nice and the performers all sing well, but I can't tell if the acting and direction are any good because the script is so fucking bad.

Jonathan (Nick DeSantis), a playwright on the eve of his new musical's opening, is wary about turning 30. He complains about it a lot. (It's a bad sign when you want the main character to stop whining in the first stanza of the first song.) And then Jonathan turns 30 and all his dreams come true, but life is still bittersweet. There are songs about failure, junk food, and a green dress, but they all sound exactly alike—like uncatchy songs from Rent.

Here are some of the musical's lessons: follow your dreams, never compromise your principles, being a waiter sucks, men and women sure do have trouble communicating sometimes, buying Twinkies can be awfully embarrassing, eating sugar feels good even though it's bad for you, corporate-speak is ridiculous and, finally, selling out is evil. The climax is so contrived that I was almost too busy wincing to notice that it's all talk and no action. This play should never be produced again, ever. I'm lucky that my girlfriend didn't break up with me for dragging her to this shit. PAUL CONSTANT