We’ve all been there. Whether it’s an old college roommate or meddling in-laws, nearly everyone has had to endure a houseguest from hell. But according to the late playwright Larry Shue, all it takes is a bit of cunning, the help of a few loyal friends, and a lot of gumption to send any troublesome acquaintance packing. In Shue’s over-the-top eighties comedy, The Nerd, now playing at Rockville Little Theatre, a man’s life is forever changed by the arrival of one very unforgettable Poindexter of a visitor.
This play is the stuff of slapstick gold. Pithy one-liners, cheeky non-sequiturs, and lots of physical comedy round-out a light, but ultimately heartwarming storyline. In brief, thirty-four year old Willum Cubbert (Chris Penick) is at a crossroads. He is not exactly failing at life, more like just going through the motions. But things suddenly get exciting for the loveable loser when Rick Steadman (Noah Steurer), an old army buddy, arrives uninvited at Willum’s doorstep just as he is hosting a dinner party for an important business client. With a suitcase, pocket protector, and bad manners in tow, Rick not only crashes the party, but throws Willum’s life into complete chaos as well. When it appears that Rick has no intention of leaving Willum’s comfy digs, friends Axel (Patrick Pase) and Tansy (Gerie Voss) devise a zany plan (a la an episode of Three’s Company) to save their overly accommodating pal and drive out his nightmarish houseguest for good. And as you might surmise, hilarity ensues.
Like a lot of comedies, Shue’s characters are near caricatures of people with whom we are all familiar. And together, this cast has obvious chemistry; some of the funniest moments of the play involve the entire ensemble. Picture a group of adults with bare feet and paper bags on their heads, hopping around a room in a game of “Shoes and Socks” for instance.
Chris Penick as the passive, but affable Willum, solidly manages the struggling architect’s emotional evolution. Despite his literal sniveling and stumbling about the stage, Penick relays Willum’s constant exasperation without appearing weak or wimpy. Instead, Penick’s “nice guy” demeanor endears him to the audience. Similarly, Gerie Voss portrays Tansy McGinnis, aspiring meteorologist and Willum’s good friend, with a light-hearted and inviting air. Though her voice is sometimes a tiny bit shrill, Voss is energetic, perky and upbeat, making her a solid choice as Willum’s ally and crush.
…perfect for the entire family.
As Warnock Waldgrave, Brian Dettling is an amusing antithesis to the Willum Cubbert character. Where Willum is meek and unassuming, Warnock is opinionated and unapologetically forthright. Dettling’s gruff and gravelly voice as well as his imposing physical presence makes him a perfect fit for this role as the no nonsense hotel owner and disgruntled dinner guest. Valerie Mikles is also entertaining as Warnock’s anxiety ridden wife, Clelia. While you and I relieve stress by maybe taking a walk or counting to ten, Clelia calms her nerves by breaking small dishes, a supply of which she keeps in her purse. Mikles’ nervous twitching and wide eyed panic not only befit a character on the brink but earn Mikles big laughs. And not to be forgotten, fifth grader, Jeffrey Sampson is a delight as the Waldgrave’s precocious son aptly named Thor. Sampson’s timing is perfect as he thrashes about a house of people that from his purview have clearly gone mad.
Now to the scene stealers – Noah Steurer is shockingly committed as Rick Steadman, army vet, Wisconsin chalk factory employee, stereotypical nerd and tornado of a houseguest. In the play’s most demanding role, Steurer’s timing is flawless as is his delivery of classic tongue in cheek comedy bits. From each missed social cue to every awkward gesture to the immediately recognizable Wisconsin accent (thanks to movies like Fargo), Steurer stays the course and never loses steam. More remarkable is Steurer’s ability to somehow convince the audience to sympathize with Rick. There are quiet moments, in between the tambourine beating and squawking, in which the character’s inherent loneliness and isolation are touchingly revealed.
Equally, Patrick Pase is unforgettable as Axel Hammond, jaded theatre critic, social drinker and Willum’s loyal friend. Pase delivers his lines with a charmingly wicked brand of sarcasm and quick wit. While the other characters are visibly unhinged by Rick’s mere presence, Axel almost casually and bemusedly watches “the nerd’s” antics. Pase, with a glass of Jack Daniels in hand of course, is measured and calm; his one-liners and sly commentary sending the audience into hysterics at every turn. Thanks to Pase’s portrayal, I cannot imagine a better actor for the role.
Lighting Designer Jim Robertson and Sound Designer, Nick Sampson create a fluid and cohesive production. Nancy Eynon Lark’s set design is a solid replica of a 1980’s bachelor pad. The sea foam wall paper, the woodsy interior, the record collection and of course the mammoth-sized answering machine are all era appropriate. So too are Axel’s country club-esque vests, Willum’s earth-toned sweaters and of course Rick’s missionary-like, white shirt, black tie and thick rimmed glasses – all hand-picked by Costume Designer, Andrea Kibbe. Technically, this crew gets it right; their subtle touches allow the actors to shine.
Director and former Shue apprentice, Laura W. Andruski does an excellent job of reimagining a story that is obviously clever and funny, but more importantly sentimental and human. You’ll undoubtedly laugh out loud, but you’ll also be inspired by this play’s surprising bigger moral message. The Nerd is perfect for the entire family.
Running Time: 2 Hours – 10 Min Intermission
The Nerd at Rockville Little Theatre, Rockville Civic Center/F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville, Maryland 20851, Thru October 6, 2013. For ticket click here.