HEBER CITY — In the opening scene of Larry Schue’s The Nerd, protagonist Willum Cubbert sits in his living room on the night of his Birthday. While he hears message after message telling him family, friends, and acquaintances won’t come to his party, his mood is brightened by the gift that his romantic interest, Tansy McGinnis gives him. At first uncertain about being given a “great to be eight” birthday card in his 34th year, he then receives a succession of cards celebrating age ten, three and so forth. He is delighted to discover that he has been given a bevy of birthday cards that all add up to thirty-four. Timpanogos Valley Theatre (TVT) produced The Nerd which I saw on Monday April 29 was, like the cards, a delightful production where the summative value of so many little things was worth celebrating. 

Similar to last year’s production Barefoot in the Park, I was once again impressed by the unit set utilized in the TVT. Functionally, it had three doors, a front window, a living space and a stage right lead off into an unseen kitchen. The furniture was neat and loyal to the time period which is a credit to scenic designers Robyn Laine and Gary Harter whose research of the period and his ability to dig up chairs that went out of style decades ago.

Prior to the start of the show, the house was filled with era-specific pop music that felt like general ambiance. That is until the lights dimmed in the house, a door on stage opened, and a man wearing an alien mask and a green morph suit boogied his little green heart out to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”. Audience members spanning generations grooved and cheered along with the unbridled enthusiasm of the dancer and a disco ball spilled fun light across the stage. Lighting designer Breanna Wall did an excellent job of using both practical and stage lighting to great effect in this moment and through the production.

Timpanogos Valley Theatre ; Heber City ; Wasatch County ; The Nerd ; 2024.

The Nerd is a sitcom style romp where Willum. played by Ben Ray, is a purple heart honored veteran. Willum discovers that one of the only people attending his birthday party is Rick Steadman the man who saved his life in war — a man he’d never met. Rick, played by Raul Balderas, was the ideal caricature for overbearing awkwardness. From his gait to his grating cadence, Balderas made it hilariously uncomfortable to watch him perform. The plot’s story begins with Rick overstaying his welcome — by days — compelling the mild mannered Willum to change his life and pursue the girl of his dreams. Like similar comedies centered on Murphey’s Law — the notion that what can go wrong will go wrong — The Nerd sees Willum embarrassed at work, upstaged at home, and guffawed at by his best friends.

I loved the bouncy play between Balderas and Ray. Each time Ray’s character would serve up a pitiful circumstance, Balderas’ would capitalize on it and make the situation awkward and amusing. Nowhere was this clearer than when at the birthday party, Rick insists on playing a rambling and pointless game called “Socks and Shoes” where characters are left barefoot, blindfolded and befuddled. The two leading men found beautiful interplay with pun rich humor and awkward tension.

My favorite performance was from Kirsten Kelly who played Celia Waldgrave. Celia is the wife of Willum’s boss who works in a school and caters to young and needy children. Kelly plays the character with the kind of warm, cooing voice that belongs in a kindergarten classroom, but her real success comes in parlaying that sweetness into the character’s true nature. Celia at one point mentions that to destress she likes to break things. When given the choice, she chooses to break a tea saucer, but does so in the orderly fashion her character’s traits belie. She removes a tidy little bag from her purse and daintily screws together a solid ballpein hammer without so much as breaking her grin.  When she finally unleashes her pent up fury on the unsuspecting dish, it is with a primal rage that is once again instantly stifled when completed.

Director Robyn Laine did a nice job with moment work such as this in the play. Bits and jokes were discovered and played well. The blocking was clean and it was clear that there was a rhythm to the play as the actors settled in. My one criticism is that it didn’t seem like the characters were driving towards key objectives. When the visit from Rick turns out to be a setup, the dialogue makes sense, but the characters behaviors don’t. There was nothing to belie that Willum’s friends are pushing him to make a life change, or even resigned to the fact that he probably won’t. It led to a production that was funny, but low stakes. I felt that each moment the characters responded naturally, but there were missed opportunities to have a cohesive story that led to a satisfying climax because the tension simply wasn’t there.

Beyond that, I was thrilled with the show. It was a rousing comedy that was authentic in design choices. The actors made bold choices and were clever in how they found ways to share the stage. The comedy brought warmth to a rainy night and once again showed what a valuable asset Timpanogos Valley Theatre is to the Wasatch Community.

The Nerd plays through May 11 at Timpanogos Valley Theatre (90 North 100 West, Heber). Tickets are $8-14. For more information, visit https://timpvalleytheatre.com/