'Nerd' Is Funny, Rewarding

Players' Version Avoids Pitfalls Of Stereotyping

March 11, 1992|By Tim Weinfeld | Tim Weinfeld,Contributing theater critic

WESTMINSTER — The Carroll Players' current dinner theater production of Larry Shue's "The Nerd" is well worth attending.

This very funny and popularcomedy has become one of the most-produced scripts by community theaters. Of the productions I have seen recently, this one, under Roberta Rooney's capable direction, comes closest to fulfilling the script's challenges.

Even before the action begins, it is clear this production has been carefully planned. The set, which is visible during dinner, is a joy.

Those responsible for the physical production -- Phil Grout, Jan Halman, Dean Camlin, Mary Lou Grout and Roberta Rooney -- have provided an environment that is attractive and carefully constructed. Itis finished, complete and, most importantly, it reflects the character of the owner.

In the play, the owner, Willum Cubbert, is an architect in love with a television weather person who is about to leavehim in Terre Haute, Ind., to take a job in Washington. Cubbert's boss is there with his wife and son, as is Cubbert's wisecracking friend. The title character, who had saved Cubbert's life in Vietnam, arrives to complicate, confuse, confound and enrage all whose lives he touches.

Shue's imagination is priceless. Anyone who has been to Terre Haute will know how funny that can be all by itself. Then we meet characters named Willum, Tansy, Axel, Warnock, Clelia and Thor -- strong clues that we can expect something beyond the usual. We are not disappointed.

Rooney has cast her show well and taken the risk many have been unwilling to: She has not typecast the nerd.

Too often, "nerd" character Rick Steadman becomes an imitation of Robert Carradine or a similar actor from the series of "nerd" films. In this production, Paul Zimmerman creates his own version.

Zimmerman's work is constantly and consistently amusing. He has built his Steadman on stupidity, naivete and infantilism without becoming grating, cloying or unbelievable. On opening night, Zimmerman had not found the connective thread for these traits, but this will be realized soon.

Jack Gore and Denae Baker are quite good as the love interest. To their credit, they rise above the dominance of the title character and the playwright's slim opportunities for development to present a believable couple in love.

Jim Naylor and Kathy Schorr contribute strongly as the boss and spouse. Dan Hood, as their son, avoids the tendency to show off that afflicts many child actors and presents the nasty, disruptive character the script demands.

Pat Flaherty, charming and appropriately annoying as the Oscar

Levant-like side kick, is developing effective timing and a strong sense of security as an actor.

As the play is based on a single conceit, it is difficult to sustain the energy and comic vitality for two hours. This production bogs downnear the end of Act One and in Scene One of the second act but, for the most part, is successful and genuinely humorous.

The play continues weekends through March 21 at Frock's Sunnybrook Farm. Doors open at 5:45 p.m., dinner is served at 6:45 and the show begins at 8, except Sunday, when doors open at 1 p.m., dinner is at 2 and the show begins at 3:15. Tickets are $16, except for Sunday and March 19, when tickets are $15.

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