Steve Martin's new comedy at The Old Globe, "The Underpants," may literally be about a pair of underpants, starring actor Eddie Kay Thomas said, but underneath the silly jokes is a story about the rising tide of change in one society.
It's a complex and beautiful play, Thomas said in an interview with NBC 7, but audience members may not necessarily notice the deeper themes at first, Thomas said.
"I think [the audience is] just going to come and have a good time," Thomas said.
Martin, who has premiered three of his plays and musicals at The Old Globe, including the Tony nominated "Bright Star," adapted the farce from an old German play by Carl Sternheim.
When Director Walter Bobbie first reached out to Thomas (known for his role in "American Pie") about the play at the start of the year, Thomas didn't hesitate.
"For me, it was basically a no brainer," Thomas said.
The play follows newlywed Louise, who is bored with her demanding and uptight husband, Theo (played by Thomas). One day, at a royal parade, Louise jumps on a beach and her underwear fall down. And from there, the comedy begins.
On the surface, Thomas said, "The Underpants" is a silly and funny play full of Steve Martin's style of humor.
But there's another layer underneath, Thomas said: a beautiful, prophetic story about a changing country and society, and how people hold onto old values and ideals.
"Now, I don't know if a lot of people who see the play are going to feel those things," Thomas said.
Thomas' character Theo is patronizing. His character believes that a man holds certain duties, and a woman holds certain duties. Theo, Thomas said, holds tight to these values.
As Louise slowly finds a way to break free of these traditional gender roles, Thomas said, the audience routes for her.
"What's true, and what I've learned playing this character is, no one will call themselves bigoted or racist," Thomas said. "I don't think people realize that their points of view are belittling to other people that are not like themselves."
It's a feeling that really comes when Theo says this one line, Thomas said: "I can't change my mind. I've had nothing to think."
Many audience members laugh at that line, Thomas said. But they're laughing because they're responding to something that rings true for them, at least a little bit.
"People are afraid to put down their beliefs, because then what would we have," Thomas said. "Who am I, if everything that I've believed my whole life is invalid?"
Perhaps, through the magic of live theater and a shared experience, Thomas said, audiences members will leave "The Underpants" thinking more about their own perspectives and biases.
"Hopefully, audiences will see that and maybe examine the beliefs we hold onto strongly now and the stereotypes and bigotry that we don't even realize we're walking around with, and we justify," Thomas said.
After all, Thomas said, "The Underpants" is performed in The Old Globe's in-the-round theater. The actors get to look directly at the audience on several occasions, and see audience members smiling and laughing back at them.
"[Theater] is unlike anything else," Thomas said. "When it's done well, it's so special and addictive."