The Nerd

The Nerd by Larry Shue
a kate west review
directed by David Rose at the Colony Theatre Company
555 N. Third Street, Burbank, (818) 558-7000, Opens June 7, 2003

Larry Shue, a promising young playwright whose writing career was tragically cut short at the age of 39, wrote one of his more successful plays, “The Nerd,” set in the 1980’s, shortly before his death. However, in the current production at the Colony Theater this play is fairly dated, the humor obvious and the characters seem to have stepped out of a 1940’s play. Although some of the actors were quite wonderful in the Colony’s previously acclaimed production of “The Laramie Project,” (Ed. F. Martin and Faith Coley Salie, respectively), it is disappointing to see the director, David Rose, allow the acting to be so broad.

The story is simple: William Cubbert (Ed. F. Martin) is a warm-hearted soul who has finally located Rick Steadman (French Stewart), the private soldier who saved his life in Vietnam. We learn this while Cubbert’s friends are celebrating his birthday. While he and his friends await his arrival, other characters are introduced such as an bothersome little boy (Justin M. Bretter) who keeps popping in and out of doors in an apparent attempt at farce. Jonathan Palmer is the stereotypical boss figure, Warnock Waldgrave, arriving with his mousy teacher wife, Clelia Waldgrave, played by Cindy Warren, who at least adds some interesting dimension to her nutty character. One of her characteristics is smashing saucer plates when upset, which Warren does with amusing relish. Ed F. Martin’s performance as Cubbert is relatively understated in comparison to his friends: Kevin Symons is sarcastically over the top as the droll Axel Hammond and Faith Coley Salie’s character of Tansy McGinnis is a bit shrill. After learning that the war hero is not all he is cracked up to be, the initial trio try their best throughout the rest of the play to oust the intruder with a variety of harebrained schemes.

The highlight of the production is French Stewart (of television’s “Third Rock from the Sun” fame) as Rick Steadman, the gawky, overbearing, clueless nerd who makes Cubbert’s life miserable. By the time he makes his first appearance, his refreshingly focused comic delivery style is a welcome relief from the expansive acting style of some of the other players. Stewart has real presence and although he portrays the ridiculous title character, he adds nuance and flair to his pesky character. He cannot carry the production alone, however, and it becomes a bit tiresome to watch the other actors try to reach the same extremes with less motivation. Stewart’s character was written to be broad and in his hands is fascinatingly weird, whereas the rest of the ensemble struggles to make the audience laugh with such antics as holding a bizarre dance ritual with grotesque hats in an attempt to scare off the unwanted houseguest.

The play is not without merit as the audience laughed heartily and seemed to enjoy the twists and turns of the comedy. However, the broad acting does not fit the normal comedic style the play presents so perhaps the script would be better served had the group decided to take it to an extreme and make it a true farce. Also the ‘unexpected’ revelation at the end (which you can see a mile coming) is not particularly believable. Still it is worth watching French Stewart at work as he is one of Los Angeles’ fun young talents. And it is always nice to visit the Colony’s relatively new and roomy space in beautiful downtown Burbank.

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