Willum Cubbert is dealing with quite a bit of frustration in his life. His creativity is being whittled down to blah by a dull client. The woman he loves is moving to D.C. to be a weather girl. On the upside, he’s about to meet the man who saved his life in Vietnam. But, when he arrives, Willum discovers he’s a creature beyond terror. He’s. . .He’s. . .The Nerd!!!! And it’s currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.
The plays of Larry Shue are enjoyable in every conceivable aspect (reading, performing, watching, and directing) and The Nerd is one of his finest and best known. Shue not only had a great gift for wordplay, but he also had a flair for the ridiculous and a penchant for creating a title character who takes absurdity to the zenith. As such, his farces are a rich source of fodder for directors and performers.
For a play of this type, I can think of no better director than Peter Reynolds who has a positive bent towards handling this kind of material. Once again, he rises to the occasion with his direction of this piece. Not only has Reynolds guided his actors to superior performances, but he knows how to get his thespians to mobilize the frenetic words so that they not only sound funny, but believable, no matter how outrageous the situation. Reynolds also knows how to craft bits so funny with timing so smooth and coordinated that you’ll laugh until your ribs ache.
Splendid supporting performances were supplied by Holden White who’s an obnoxious brat as Thor Waldgrave. Sandia Ahlers is darling as the meek Celia Waldgrave whose repressed anger manifests in the destruction of breakable objects. Trevor Belt is the blustering, unimaginative hotel magnate. Kimberly Braun is a unique blend of supportive friend and proponent of women’s lib as Tansy McGinnis.
Michael Perrie, Jr. darn near steals the show as Axel Hammond. Perrie is perfect for the role and just glows as the cynical theatre critic. His witty asides are so extemporaneous that I wondered if some of them were improvised. Perrie is also a great deal of fun to watch as he always finds bits of business that keep him involved in the scene, but enhance the primary action as opposed to drawing attention away from it. He’s also great at the absurd parts of farce and his chant at the play’s climax is one of the show’s hallmark moments.
Nick Ferrucci is the consummate everyman as Willum Cubbert. Cubbert epitomizes most of Shue’s leads: a nice guy who has difficulty standing up for himself and going for what he wants until an outside force galvanizes him. Ferrucci is completely believable as the kind-hearted architect, but his life spirals out of control when he finally meets his nerdy pen pal who once saved his life. Ferrucci skillfully walks that line of a man trying to maintain his gratitude while simultaneously losing his mind. His meltdowns are hilarious especially when he practices speeches throwing out his pesty acquaintance and has a knack for farcical improv with his machinations to get Steadman out the door.
And the source of all this turmoil is Rick Steadman, brilliantly essayed by Andy Harvey. Anything you can think of when you hear the word “nerd” is embodied in Harvey’s take. Steadman has a nasally, adenoidal voice. His dress sense is godawful. He’s completely oblivious to social cues. He has weird hobbies like adapting songs for tambourine. He’s also good-hearted and well-meaning, but he has the Sadim (read that backwards) touch as everything he touches turns to blech. Harvey doesn’t chew the scenery. He devours it and has a grand time doing so and brings you along for the ride.
Dana Weintraub has designed a comfortable apartment for the level-headed Cubbert and the properties of Eliot Curtis give it that homey atmosphere (bonus points for digging up the Fry Guy on the bookcase to give the place that 80s feel). Jack Smith’s costumes suit the personalities of the various characters from the suits of the urbane Axel and business minded Walgrave to Steadman’s rainbow-colored suspenders and ill-fitting clothes to the smart dresses of Tansy.
This show is pure escapism. Grab a ticket and laugh yourself into a happy place. It’ll cure what ails you.
The Nerd plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 31. Showtimes are 7:30pm on July 16, 22, and 30 and 2pm on July 12, 17, 22, 26-27, and 31. Tickets cost $33 for the Main Floor and $26 for the balcony and can be obtained at the Box Office or by visiting www.maplesrep.com or calling 660-385-2924. Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.