This is a reprint of my remarks about “The Nerd” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presented in their Quadracci Powerhouse main stage theater during the 2019 – 2020 season. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline November 14, 2019.
The comedies of Larry Shue are now part of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s DNA, so it is no surprise the Mark Clements brought The Nerd back as part of his 10th anniversary season. The Nerd is a completely balanced combination of slap stick, absurdism, one liners, and situational comedy to please every funny bone.
Since this play has been around for 30 years, I won’t be giving away too many things here. The basic premise is a couple of friends are throwing a small birthday party for an up and coming architect in of all places, Terre Haute IN. And he invited a client, who is building a hotel. AND a man who saved the architect’s life in Viet Nam…a man the principle has communicated with via letter but has never met…is also coming to the party. The initial anticipation vs. resulting reality are totally different strokes.
So there are misunderstandings. Partly generational, partly class, and some totally intentional! And the play is set in the late 1970s and has become a period piece…in a good way. And it is amazing how simple life was in the late ‘70s. The set gives that perfect feel…simple mid-century furnishings…a stereo system we, boomers, all lusted after…and a simple tape operated answering machine…the ones that always gave us fits. No other devices getting in the way.
And an interesting view into the social structures at the time. Women are definitely second class citizens here…children an afterthought…monied men are powerful men…women do all of the domestic work. And heaven forbid a man should follow a woman who is pursuing their employment dream…even when your location could be fluid.
The slap stick is hilarious. The absurdities provoke belly laughs. The one liners are still funny, even for someone who was seeing this for the fourth time. Although I anticipated some of the situations and some of the punchlines, it was still a completely entertaining evening. I will happily revisit this again, the next time the Rep offers it.
The cast is amazing…director JC Clementz made sure all of the comedy potential written in the text made it to the stage. There are two young men playing Thor, the only child character in the play. We got to see Damon McCoy on Tuesday night, and he nailed it.
Only two small quibbles. Sometimes the characters couldn’t be heard or were a bit garbled. Slowing down a bit and speaking up would help. But given the story and dialogue it has got to be really hard to keep on track without laughing out loud yourself. And I thought that Mr. and Mrs. Waldgrave were made up as older individuals than I would expect for someone with an 8 to 10 year old child. Shrug.
Special congrats to Michael Doherty and his portrayal of The Nerd, Rick Steadman. That role has got to have a tour de force actor!
But do go…it will be one of the funniest evenings of live theater that you will ever experience!
And it’s too bad that I am over the hill for the role but I would love to try Axel Hammond, the self-defined snooty theater critic!