The Panties, The Partner and The Profit, Shakespeare Theatre Company

David Ives has written a play with a name that no one, myself included, really wants to say. It's a nod to the source material, of course, a series of plays from the start of the twentieth century by German playwright Carl Sternheim, rendered into alliterative pithiness by Ives as (sigh) The Panties, The Partner and The Profit.  Sternheim's tales of the Maske family are updated by Ives into our more recent past (1950 and 1987) and then into the extremely near future (tomorrow morning).

Photo of Kimberly Gilbert as Louise Mask in The Panties,
The Partner and The Profit
 by Carol Rosegg.

Ives uses three of Sternheim's plays as his starting point, finding powerful parallels in the Germany of the 1910 and early 1920s with America today, and discovering his own points of commentary on our society. It's a shame, then, that so often these points of commentary are tied so pointedly into Ives' own perspective; this is most apparent in the final act, when the cast reappears to satirize modern character types from a generation or two separate from Ives' own.  Satire, as with all comedy, works best when the writer can speak from true understanding of the characters' varying points of view, and instead, the third act in particular is very clearly written by a white man of a certain age.

By contract, the ensemble is doing extraordinary work, led by Michael Kahn's excellent direction. There were moments in Act I when I sighed in happiness at the glorious specificity of Kimberly Gilbert's choices moment to moment at Louise Mask, but there truly is no weak link in the cast. Julia Coffey's exit in Act II may secretly be my favorite stage moment in months, and Carson Elrod is clearly having a ball in every scene in which he appears.  Alexander Dodge's sets and Frank Labovitz's costumes also do excellent work in grounding the audience into each of the three time periods.

Photo of Kimberly Gilbert, Kevin Isola, and Carson Elrod by Carol Rosegg.

Ultimately, there are laughs and gestures towards some bigger ideas from Ives, but his script feels like the clear weak link in a production most notable as a masterclass in comic acting and directing.  I'm looking forward to having Kahn's last production as the artistic director of STC be this spring's The Oresteia, and while I will miss his deft hand at comedy, it's worth celebrating this comic ensemble, which is easily one of the best I've seen in DC.


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