Graduate Student Noah Herman directs The Underpants
by Toree Weaver
In this year’s performance season, Temple grad student Noah Herman will direct The Underpants written by Carl Sternheim and adapted by Steve Martin. A witty satire focusing on a conservative couple whose social life is elevated after the wife’s underwear fall down at a parade for the king. As the husband is embarrassed and fears his image will be tainted, the wife encounters two men willing to do anything for her attention.
Completing his last year in the graduate program, Noah Herman had the opportunity to propose potential plays for his thesis. He explained that of the six plays he presented, The Underpants was his top choice. With experience in directing comedies, Herman was excited to take on the 1910 German play.
“It’s very much up my alley and a challenge for me. It was important for me that whatever I chose for my thesis project be both,” Herman explained. “It was up my alley because most of my directing before coming to Temple was comedy and particularly contemporary but it was a challenge because it is a period piece in a sort of way and that’s something I have never worked with before.”
While the piece is set to take place in 20th century Germany, the story is relatable to the modern audience. Herman shared that when thinking of the event the story is built on, Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance comes to mind.
“It coined the term ‘wardrobe malfunction.’ Everybody knows what that term means, even if they don’t remember the incident and what is Louise’s underpants falling down if not the ultimate wardrobe malfunction,” Herman said.
While set a little over a hundred years ago, the story challenges the audience to think about society’s perception of the roles of women. Herman explained how comedy is a unique storytelling tool to help the audience explore political issues while sharing a common experience through laughter.
Herman also shared how his experience has been directing the play, including some of the challenges. The story moves quickly and Herman must make sure everything has time to sit and resonate with the audience. There are numerous key moments that add to the progression of the story that can change the tone if not executed the right way.
As a director, he explained that with every play it is always a challenge to make sure the actors have everything they need in order to properly tell the story. “In the beginning, the play is 100 percent in the director’s mind and slowly over the rehearsal process, the director reveals what that story is,” Herman shared. “The process of rehearsing a play is transferring it from my head to everyone else’s head.”
Adding to those challenges, one of the biggest difficulties that cast and crew has faced is space. With the show set to run in Randall Theater, the area they are given to work with is very limited. Herman discussed that the story was written to take place in a multilayered set. The production team has had to incorporate the elevated portion of the set and provide enough space for the many quick changes that happen during the play. While all of these things must be considered, Herman stressed how he didn’t want the audience to feel like they are in the play with the characters.
In the process of trying to effectively tell the story with the space provided , Herman and set designer Tim Pence have developed a unique way to both share the narrative and keep the story separate from the audience. During the exploratory phase, they played around with the idea of building the set like a dollhouse.
“I had this idea that Louise is a doll who is manipulated by all of these men around her and her journey in the play is breaking out of the doll house and becoming her own person,” Herman shared. “Then it was Tim’s idea to make the set a doll house and what that did was set the play in a box so you have a cutoff point down stage by the audience that the actors can not cross.”
With the play just weeks away, Herman shared that he looks forward to sharing the piece of work with the audience. “I love telling stories and I love seeing the audience respond to a story I found value in and that my set designers and actors find value in and then getting to share that,” he said. “That is the rewarding part.”
The Underpants runs November 29 - December 10 in the Randall Theater.