WEST VALLEY CITY — For years a colleague of mine has been telling me how hilarious The Nerd, by Larry Shue, is. I recently had the opportunity to watch The Nerd at Hale Centre Theatre and I have to agree it is quite the gut buster, especially this production of it.
The Nerd is the story of Willum Cubbert, an architect in Terra Haute, Indiana, who is also the landlord to his friends Tansy and Axel. Willum served in the Vietnam War and would have died if not rescued by Rick Steadman. As Willum was unconscious at the time of his rescue and then quickly shipped home, he has never met Rick. As they have exchanged letters, Willum has promised Rick that he will always be welcome in his home and that if he ever needs help of any kind to call upon him. Rick shows up at Willum’s birthday party and his social awkwardness and weird behaviors send the party spinning off in a whole new direction. The fun doesn’t end there since Rick announces he’s planning on staying for a while, and Willum’s sanity begins to wear thin.
Willum Cubbert was well played by Ben Abbott. He did well progressing from a normal and sane architect to showing Willum as a man being unraveled by an unwanted and impossible roommate. I loved his many internal struggles. He wants to be kind to Rick, whom he feel he owes his life, but the man is currently ruining his life. He loves Tansy (played by Kelly Coombs) and doesn’t want to ruin her dreams, but doesn’t want to her to move to D.C. and away from him. According to Tansy, what Willum lacks is gumption. When Willum finally showed some gumption, I wanted to stand up and cheer him on. Abbot did well at creating a conflicted character.
Ryan Simmons gave an encore performance as Rick Steadman, a role he played 10 years ago for HCT. After watching Simmons perform I can understand why he was cast again as Rick Steadman. Rick was so awkward that he made my skin crawl and had me squirming in my seat from embarrassment over his behavior. Yet, I would still burst out laughing (and not always with a nervous laugh). One particular moment had me in stitches was Simmons’s musical performance right before intermission. I won’t go into to detail here, but it was a good thing it was intermission so I could regain my composure. The voice that Simmons uses for Rick Steadman reminded me of the nasally voice of the 60’s and 70’s film and television actor Paul Lynde. It was the ideal character voice for a “nerd.” I loved how Rick’s awkward personality effected the other characters, particularly Warnock Waldgrave, played by Kevin B. Cottam.
Warnock Walgrave, also known as “Ticky,” is a wealthy business man who has hired Willum to design his newest hotel. Ticky keeps having horrible run ins with Rick which leave him with anything from a sore eye to covered in cottage cheese. These incidents leave Ticky ticking and swearing under his breath in his frantic attempt to flee the situation. I also loved how his wife Clelia Waldgrave (played by Liz Chapman), handles her own frustrations by smashing saucers. Chapman did well at balancing the mania of her character and not becoming overly melodramatic. Their son, Thor (played by Cairo McGee), is also greatly effected by Rick when Rick shows up in a monster costume. Thor’s scenes with Rick were some of my favorite moments, often because of McGee’s well timed and comical screams. Poor Thor, he just couldn’t catch a break.
There are many hilarious moments in this production, but my favorite scene was when Willum, Tansy, and Axel (played by Cameron Garner) decide to try and reverse the tables on Rick and make him feel extremely uncomfortable. At one point this involves an elaborate hoax of Willum turning into a pig. The scene is melodramatic in all the best ways. The hilarity only heightens as Ticky walks in on the scene and discovers his architect dancing around like a mad man.
Although The Nerd is a nice production, there were a couple of small moments that felt forced and over-rehearsed. One example was the kissing scene at the end of the show. The movements were too staged and canned, and the cast and director Eric R. Jensen didn’t make the moment feel real. Another moment that felt fake was when Thor faints. These moments were small and perhaps I’m the only one who was bothered by them.
This show was well done in all aspects. The set (design by Jennifer Stapley Taylor) was a flashback to my grandmother’s house with burnt orange shag carpet and olive green sofas. Wood paneling and tile augmented the 1970’s feel. With brown poufs and circular, lava rock-filled fire pit in the center of the room the entire room was cozy and inviting. The costumes (design by Tamara Clayton Baker) were a blast from the past, especially Axel’s platform shoes and later his ruffled tux shirt.
The sound design by Dan Morgan was perfect. It seems like sound design is never truly appreciated when it is done correctly. In fact, most audience members only notice when it is done incorrectly. Not only were the sound effects expertly done and executed, the placement of speakers made the effects more realistic. The sound design added to the show’s humor, especially with the use of the answering machine that was going haywire.
This show is ideal for a much needed night of laughter. It also reminded me that as crazy as my life may seem at times, at least I don’t have Rick Steadman as a roommate. If awkward situations make you laugh, this is the show for you. I can see why Hale Centre Theatre decided to bring The Nerd back, and why they decided to cast Ryan Simmons once again. I recommend this show if you need a laugh or reminder that your roommate really isn’t that bad.