Sunday, May 4, 2014

Millbrook: "The Nerd"

Larry Shue's untimely death in a plane crash at age 39 cut short a career that had already achieved some notoriety. The Nerd and The Foreigner have become staples in contemporary theatre; each one a farce that takes a simple situation and builds its comic potential with witty dialogue and eccentric characters.

The Millbrook Community Players have aired a production of The Nerd (1981) recently, under the direction of Stephanie McGuire. -- A 44th birthday party for Willum Cubbert [Joe Nolin, Jr.] is thrown into chaos on the arrival of the eponymous "nerd" of the title, one Rick Steadman [Michael Snead], who had saved Willum's life in Viet Nam; but there's a catch: while Willum was unconscious at the time, and Rick left before they could actually meet, their only connection since then has been through long-term correspondence.

The party is hosted by friends -- caustically witty drama critic Axel Hammond [Marshall Simpson], and long-suffering girlfriend Tansy McGinnis [Tracy Algrove] -- who both wish that milquetoast Willum would develop some gumption in both his professional and personal lives instead of trying so hard to be nice to people. -- Willum's architectural designs are continuously being questioned by Warnock Waldgrave [Sean Wallace], the man with the money for the project; and Tansy wishes Willum would be more demonstrative in his affection for her. Waldgrave brings his ditzy wife Clelia (sp) [Tracey Quates] and obnoxious son Thor [Micah Tyler] to the party, where they and the others are horrified by Rick's behavior.

Though uneven in places, with a lot of the clever dialogue and groan-inducing puns spoken too softly or with little energy, and in need of a more sprightly pace and commitment to character relationships, this production of The Nerd has one outstanding performance that carries the show. -- Mr. Snead is so fully engaged in his character that he often causes others on stage to almost collapse with laughter. He is so thoroughly obnoxious in his seeming ignorance of all the social norms, and speaks with an irritating high-pitched voice that could cut through steel, and shows no awareness of his character's foibles. So, when he moves in as Willum's roommate, bringing all his household goods with him, he becomes the nightmare guest-from-hell who shows no desire to leave, and there is a concerted effort to get rid of him.

And it takes a predictable sit-com plot to make it happen, with Willum ultimately getting the gumption he so needs to stand up to Mr. Waldgrave, and to free himself of the obligation he owes to Rick for saving his life; enough is enough.

There is a twist at the end that makes it all worthwhile, with Mr. Snead again demonstrating a command of character.