“The Nerd” is the final production at George Street Playhouse’s inaugural season in its temporary space on Cook Campus at Rutgers University. It is a farce, and the perfect gamboling Spring offering. Shake off the Winter blues with Willum Cubbert, architect.
Larry Shue’s play, set in the 1970s, is beautifully acted, achingly funny and full of surprises. Arch and full of sight gags and physical comedy, it keeps everyone on their toes!
David Arsenault’s set takes us perfectly back in time. Imagine if we could have seen Mike Brady’s bachelor pad before he became the patriarch of the Brady Bunch–Willum and Brady know how to express taste and masculinity. It has comfort and panache in equal measure. Willum (Colin Hanlon) is poised on the edge of opportunity. His bird in the hand is a brilliant design for Warnock Waldgrave (Stephen Wallem) that Waldgrave is determined to make the Ho-Hum Hotel: he asks Willum continually to remove the touches that make it a great design. Willum invites Waldgrave’s family, his wife Clelia (Ann Harada) and son Thor (Hayden Bercy), to his birthday party, so what could possibly go wrong? We get an idea from Willum’s besties, Tansy (Kate Reinders) and Axel (Zach Shaffer), when they are preparing for the Waldgrave family’s arrival. Willum gets news that a visitor who saved his life in Viet Nam is coming for a visit. Rick Steadman (Jonathan Kite) arrives shortly after the Waldgraves and the merry mayhem begins.
Rick saved Willum’s life, but Willum was unconscious so he never got to thank Rick, or meet him personally. Through letters and holiday cards, Willum told Rick if he ever needed anything, pop in. Over the next two acts, Willum comes to rue those words.
Rick is Dennis the Menace, full grown. The havoc he wreaks seems unintentional, and therein lies the brilliance. Director Kevin Cahoon takes the work of playwright Shue, the funniest man you’ve likely never heard of, whose life was tragically cut short in 1986 in a plane crash, and elevates the art further still. This work, one of Shue’s earliest, is full of zany, peppery life and lots of physical comedy. Wallem and Harada are magic together. Wallem’s beetle browed scowl is commanding and this captain of industry could not be more different from his “Nurse Jackie” character Nurse Thor. Demanding much, and actually receiving little of what he wants, he is hilarious. Harada’s expert timing and turns of phrase are little radish roses of delight. Bercy’s Thor is kinetic angst and Kite’s Rick is done with such freshness that the mayhem is organically sui generis.
And what of Willum? His head is in a spin, his feet don’t touch the ground–every time he tries to make time with Tansy, she fends him off. Her lips say ‘no no,’ but there really is ‘yes yes’ in her heart. But how to bridge the gap, when she’s moving across country for her dreams? Reinders gives her ingénue-ity and perfect ’70s femininity and conflict. Axel, a drama critic and one-time fiancé of Tansy’s, is very Droll Coward, orchestrating Willum’s birthday party, and acting as éminence grise in ways that are revealed in the dénouement. Shaffer delivers razor-sharp one-liners that you often won’t realize you’ve been cut by until you see the thin red line. When you tire of the 15-second news cycle and want some action, this is your show. And wait for the twist!
Will Willum ever get his life back? Will Tansy get her man? Will Axel get his? You’ll have to visit George Street Playhouse to know for sure. It’s playing through May 20, it’s time to drop a dime—call now or visit www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org