Leaping from Boston in 1950 to Wall Street in 1986 to lavish Malibu today, David Ives (The Liar, The Metromaniacs) gives his “tranlaptation” treatment to Carl Sternheim’s epic trilogy, Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Classes – an evening filled with panties falling, lovers juggling, dueling pistols shooting and other signs of near-apocalypse.
David Ives has said publicly that “German comedy” is largely an oxymoron – except for Sternheim (1878-1942). Returning for one final collaboration with Artistic Director Michael Kahn (The School for Lies), Ives sharpens his celebrated wit to razor-like social commentary – at once ludicrous, larger-than-life and close to the bone, making us wonder along the way, as all social satirists do, just where all this madness is going both onstage and off.
Carl Sternheim was a master of satire in the age of German Expressionism – more or less the top of the 20th century. I’ve admired Sternheim’s work since college, but it was his trilogy of plays about a family called the Masks that really intrigued me. In the first and most well-known play, sometimes called “The Underpants,” Louise Mask and her husband are in the street watching a royal parade go by when her underpants fall down. Louise’s husband – a Ralph Kramden type – is furious that his wife could lose her underpants in front of the king, unaware that her underwear has attracted the attention of a couple of other men. Needless to say, complications and comedy follow.
The second play picks up the story of the Mask family decades later, with the social-climbing son of the Masks. The third play moves us on another few decades on to the grandchildren, when we find that the Mask family has become immensely rich, powerful and famous. Now is that an American story, or what? So I said to Michael, what if I took those three plays, moved them to America, shortened them, and made an evening out of them ending in our own day? And Michael said yes. Or ja in this case. Needless to say I’ve changed the plays a good deal in adapting and Americanizing them. But what a great gift it is to be headed back into a rehearsal room with the incredible Michael Kahn after all the fun we’ve had together on the French plays. Still, I think it’s pretty rash of him to just up and leave STC after more than 30 years. He just arrived here, for God’s sake.
All titles, artists and dates subject to change.