THE NERDby Larry Shue
Richardson Theatre Centre
Director – Janette Oswald
Set Design – LaMar Graham, Janette Oswald
Sound Design – Richard Stephens Jr., Janette Oswald
Properties – Leigh Wyatt Moore, Janette Oswald
Costumes – Janette Oswald, Cast
House Manager/ Stage Manager – Leigh Wyatt Moore
CAST (from reviewed performance)
Willum Cubbert – Eddy Herring
Tansy McGinnis – Laura Lester
Axel Hammond – Robby Gemaehlich
Warnock Waldgrave – Bob Shapiro
Clelia Waldgrave – Jaime Lane
Thor Waldgrave – Blake Bathman
Rick Steadman – Kevin Michael Fuld
Reviewed Performance: 1/29/2015
Reviewed by Scott W. Davis , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Nerd is a comedy that comes as close to being a farce without crossing the line. It was written in 1981 but set in 1979. It’s about a young architect named Willum Cubbert who is landlord to his friends Tansy and Axel. Tansy, a young, attractive meteorologist and the woman Willum holds a candle for, announces she’s leaving Indiana to work in Washington DC. Alex, Willum’s other roommate, is a critic for the local newspaper (I can relate). Willum’s life is interrupted when a friend from his past comes to visit. The friend ends up living with the three, turning the house upside down in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine.
The show ran on Broadway for a year with Mark Hamill playing Willum, and directed by comic great Charles Nelson Reilly. It was commissioned as a sitcom for NBC in 1989 but didn’t make the cut, the episode being shown once In 1996. It’s become a stable production for a lot of community theatres the world over.
The first thing I do when I walk into any theatre is look at the set, and you couldn’t miss this one. LaMar Graham’s design literally took up the entire back wall of the theatre. The setting is the living room of Willum’s house. I’ve seen a lot of shows in this space and most don’t use platforms, but Mr. Graham was smart in using them to raise the upstage center section of the set. On that platform is the front door to the house and a closet door. This allowed for great site lines as people entered the house. The walls of the house definitely resembled an old 70’s style home. Painted a taupe color, they had a tri- colored stripe of orange, brown and white running horizontal like a chair rail. The stripe fanned out on one side of the set, and it really reminded me of the Cleveland Browns- inspired bedroom in which I grew up.
Leigh Wyatt Moore and Director Janette Oswald’s property selection was thorough in keeping things 70’s. The set dressing also stayed 70’s style, the record player, records, and tape answering machine looking like I was back in my childhood home. And it wasn’t overdone, not cluttered with stuff everywhere, and depicting the character’s architect home to a tee.
Director Oswald was seriously busy on this production. She directed the show while also listed as co-designer for set, sound and props, and selecting costumes with the help of the cast. This always makes me nervous to see someone doing almost everything. And while there were some things overlooked by Oswald, costumes weren’t one of them. WOW. I have no clue where you would find that many 70’s-styled clothes. Tansy’s blue dress screamed late 70’s-early 80’s. All the men are in dress slacks instead of blue jeans which added more to the whole 70’s vibe. Finally, the jumpsuit was priceless. Did we really dress like that???
Each character’s styling was immaculate - from Alex’s beard to Tansy’s locks - looking like they stepped out of a time machine.
Sound design by Richard Stephens Jr. was just wonderful, and while all effects were perfect for the setting, I need to give a shout out to Stage Manager Leigh Wyatt Moore for hitting those cues perfectly with the action onstage. During one scene Willum goes to the answering machine to listen to the messages. He starts and stops the machine and Moore kept right up with him. I loved the sound effects of cars coming up the driveway as well. These were little touches but truly gave a more realistic feel for the audience.
I’ve seen enough productions at RTC to figure out that lighting is not their strong point; so much so they didn’t list a designer. There were no fades, just a full up or a full black. Back lights wouldn’t be brought up until halfway through a scene. That kind of design was not what I like to see when I go to a show.
The acting, on the other hand, was far better. There were definitely some cringe time, but they were pretty solid all in all. There is a tremendous amount of movement in this show, and tons of slapstick comedy which usually tires out a cast, but this ensemble kept right on going.
Eddy Herring stars as Willum and pulled off a good interpretation of the character. On first entrance I easily took him for a 25 to 30-year-old who is a little stiff. He believable played the character as a clean, meticulous, organized man. It was little things like straightening his shirt, adjusting his pants, and the way he stood straight and tall that made me see him as Willum.
Love interest Tansy, portrayed by Laura Lester, was portrayed completely different than I was expecting. In past productions I’ve seen her played as a ditzy blonde. Lester’s interpretation was more on the intelligent side, and actually worked a lot better for me. I have to say Ms. Lester is a gem on stage. She is a small, petite lady who used every bit of her body to the fullest. Her facial expressions throughout were wonderful. She truly conveyed what Tansy was thinking with her eyes alone.
Within the roommate trio is the comedian Alex Hammond, played by Robby Gemaehlich. I had a hard time depicting whether his character or friend Rick was the best performance of the night. Mr. Gemaehlich truly understood the meaning of comedy as his timing was impeccable. Delivery and timing was so good it seemed he was close to cutting off the other actors’ lines, but he never did. You could see Gemaehlich was having a blast being the second antagonist in the play.
The other antagonist is Rick Steadman who, in the play, turns out to be actor Kemp Hall. Kevin Michael Fuld was daring enough to take on the role, and was flawless through the entire production. This is seriously a tough role to play; never mind the constant moving or the elevated vocal octave or that you’re playing two roles. Try delivering lines while stuffing deviled eggs in your mouth or drinking tea. It was seriously one challenge after another for Fuld, and he held on like a trooper. His mannerisms while playing Rick were over-exaggerated and lanky, while Kemp’s were suave and sophisticated. His characterizations were so different you began to believe it was two actors.
And then there’s the Waldgrove Family. Warnock Waldgrove is a businessman who’s hired Willum to design a hotel for him. His wife Clelia is always by his side and their son Thor is simply obnoxious. Warnock Waldgrove is portrayed by Bob Shapiro. The beginning of his performance was a bit rough - losing lines, forgetting trigger lines, and moving like he didn’t know his blocking. After awhile he got better so I’ll put it down to opening night jitters. Shapiro also had a tendency to over project. The space at RTC is small, and so an already boisterous voice yelling can become overkill. However, you have to hand it to Shapiro when he entered with cottage cheese all over his head - it was priceless. I don’t know how he stayed in character, not being able to see a thing through cottage cheese layered inside his glasses, but he did it hilariously.
Blake Bathman, portraying son Thor Waldgrove, also had the same problem with over projection. Unfortunately, it was his screaming that got me right in the ears. While I loved his prowling movement around the stage during one scene, it got ruined by the extremely loud, piercing scream he did throughout.
To keep those two in check is mother Clelia Waldgrave, portrayed by Jaime Lane. She was the little piece of solace in this mumbo jumbo show. Hers is one of those sweet characters that should be passive and not standout, which can be difficult to portray, but she did it well. I personally think it’s harder for an actor to play a dossal role because it sometimes goes against type. I have only good things to say about her extraordinary job with this show.
The Nerd is one of those shows that are done quite often but, unfortunately, with mostly bad results. This, happily, was truly one of the better productions of The Nerd I’ve seen in years. The delivery and comedy timing was great and made the comedy flow well. After two hours of laughing, I went home with a huge smile on my face, wanting more.
Richardson Theatre Centre
518 W. Arapaho Road
Richardson, TX 75080
This production runs through February 8th
Shows are Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm.
Tickets are $20.00 Thursday and Sunday, and $22.00 Friday-Saturday.
Groups of eight or more receive a $2.00 discount.
For information and to order tickets, go to http://www.richardsontheatrecentre.net
Tickets can also be ordered by phone at 972-699-1130