Friday, February 17, 2006

Hardcore Nerdity

The American Heartland Theatre's, one of the most fun theatre groups in KC, latest offering is "The Nerd" by Larry Shue. Since its premiere in 1981, "The Nerd" has become a staple of comedy and community theatre. Like a porn movie, the plot as it is, serves to set up the "juicy" scenes. The play begins with Willum Cubbert (Craig Benton) celebrating his 34th birthday. Willum is an architect unenthuiastically working on a project for a client he really can not stand. His girlfriend Tansy is leaving to become a weather lady in Washington, D.C., and there is subtle mention that IRS is auditing his taxes. Life is just peachy for poor Willum.

A birthday party of sorts is planned. Willum gets word that Rick Steadman, a man who saved Willum’s life in Vietnam but who Willum never actually met is coming for a visit. In return for svaing his life Willum pledged to be there for Rick whenever and for whatever is needed. The boss and his wife are coming as well, making the evening even more enjoyable.

Turns out Rick, wonderfully played by Ken Remmert, is a hardcore Nerd. A monster of nerd-dom,(he makes his entry dressed as a monster as he is mistaken that Willum's party is a costume party) Rick is a chalk-factory inspector who bangs on a tambourine while singing the "Star Spangled Banner", has no social skills whatsoever and twists and turns any conversation into frustration. Obvious is the fact that Shue has little sympathy for this character at all. Soon everyone is plotting to rid the world of the Nerd.

Rick not only crashes the party but also William’s life. In the process he ruins Willum’s career and makes a general pain of himself. With the aid of Tansy and his bitchy queen tenant and friend Axel,(the incomparable Ron Magee) Willum tries rid himself of Rick without being ungrateful.

There are laughs-a-million but the implausible and flimsy plot make the show somewhat tedious as theatre. Most of the punch lines are obvious and you find yourself laughing at the sheer absurdity of the whole thing. Magee obviously ad-libs (I am told that in some performances of the show, he was way off in left field and had even the cast in a tither)and makes the show. Very grating and totally unecessary is a kid, the bratty son of the boss Warnock Walgrave(who insists on being called "Ticky) and his wife Clelia, who does nothing but scream and act annoying. Why Shue had the kid in the plot is beyond me. The set was very 1980s and quite well done.

Worth a few laughs and a fun evening at the friendliest, most laid back theatre venue I know.

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