'The Panties, The Partner and the Profit'

Photo by Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre Company

The Panties, The Partner and the Profit is the latest collaboration between playwright David Ives and director Michael Kahn at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC). It is the fifth and Michael, who is retiring from STC at the end of July, says it’s the final collaboration between him and David. Who knows maybe there could be a sixth if the incoming artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre, Simon Godwin, invites Michael back as a treat for Washington DC theater goers and gives David Ives a chance to redeem himself. 

Michael Kahn and Tony Roach (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Michael Kahn and Tony Roach

I only say redeem himself because this play doesn’t seem quite as polished as their previous collaborations like the The Liar and Metromaniacs. Despite that there are plenty of laughs in the first two plays and the audience clearly enjoyed them but after the third play I left the theater feeling frustrated with the ending.   

In this play Ives takes on the works of German satirist Carl Sternheim and his series of plays on the Maske family. They were written as satires of the German middle class, tracing an arc from the Wilhelmine era up to the dawn of World War One. Ives takes these old plays and updates them and in his version, The Panties is set in Boston on July 4, 1950, The Partner is set in New York in 1987, during a pivotal time for Wall Street, and The Profit takes place in Malibu, tomorrow, and as Kahn has said, whatever that means.

Each of the three short plays, done without intermission, tells an individual story in farcical style but they are clearly woven together. But the point Ives seems to want to make at the end of the third play somehow gets lost. It’s as if he hasn’t quite figured out how to get his point across and has instead given the actors lines that seem to have them lecturing the audience. The last play has all six actors on stage together and it’s as if he struggled to find enough for each of them to say. I felt he could have cut fifteen minutes from the production and it would have gained something.  

Julia Coffey and Tony Roach (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Julia Coffey and Tony Roach

But this production is more than worth a night in the theater because whatever shortcomings the play may have the talent of each of the actors is showcased brilliantly. They are uniformly superb. Michael Kahn, as he does with all the actors he directs, brings out the best in each of them. They each assume multiple roles in the plays and make each character they inhabit eminently watchable. It is impossible to single out one as the best. Kimberly Gilbert is great as Louise Mask at all ages, making her STC debut. Carson Elrod is incredible as Joseph Mask and he has been at STC before in The Comedy of Errors and The Heir Apparent.  Kevin Isola is wonderful as Benjamin Mandelshtam, and Julia Coffee shines as Sybil Rittenhouse; we saw her at STC in The Merchant of Venice and Pericles. Turna Mete is memorable as Milly Hamilton and finally Tony Roach is great in all his roles believably aging as William Hamilton and showing off his awesome physique as Jack Revere; he has appeared in seven productions at STC including two Ives plays, The Liar and Metromaniacs.

The wonderful sets are the work of Alexander Dodge and are on a turntable so the action can move from one play to the next seamlessly and the costumes are great and designed by Frank Lebovitz. The Panties, The Partner and The Profit is at the Shakespeare Theatre until January 6th.