`The Nerd' filled with laughter, silliness

Bowie group's production ends with a surprise

October 05, 2007|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,Special to The Sun

Bowie Community Theatre president Janice Coffey says this season is "all about laughter," and the troupe drew plenty of it last weekend with Larry Shue's The Nerd.

Shue died in 1985 at age 39 in a commuter plane crash in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. His sitcom-style play opened on Broadway two years later, mixing a fun plot filled with colorful characters and physical and verbal comedy. As a bonus, it has a surprise ending.

Bob Kauffman, former Anne Arundel Community College theater department chairman, recalled meeting Shue while taking students on a 1985 New York theater tour, which included seeing Shue's off-Broadway hit The Foreigner. Kauffman recruited Shue to serve as one of his seminar leaders and counts among his "theater treasures a copy of The Foreigner that Larry autographed following the theater tour seminar."

In his program notes, BCT director Craig Allen Mummey says he chose the show "for a change of pace and for the sheer blessed silliness of it all."

This silliness takes place in Willum Cubbert's living room, where a telephone answering machine that spins and expands the comedy announces that he will celebrate his 34th birthday tonight. A struggling architect, Cubbert was saved by an unseen hero after being wounded during the Vietnam War and has corresponded with him since. This mystery man is expected to attend the birthday party.

In the opening scene, we meet Cubbert's girlfriend, Tansy McGinnis, who is about to leave town to take a job as a TV weather forecaster in Washington. Also on hand is witty theater critic Axel Hammond, who seems willing to help his friend Cubbert jump-start his life.

Another guest is Cubbert's difficult client, Warnock Waldgrave, who arrives with his nervous wife, Clelia, and bratty son, Thor. The other invited guest, expected any minute, is Rick Steadman, who saved Cubbert, earning his eternal gratitude and a place to stay when he arrives.

Steadman's entrance is memorable - in a costume frightening enough to make young Thor speechless and immobile. Nerdy Rick is a refugee from the chalk factory, where his job requires him to check filled crates of chalk for empty slots. Mummey plays increasingly annoying and dimwitted Rick to comic perfection.

Others in the ensemble who lend distinction and evoke laughter include James McDaniel V as Warnock Waldgrave. He brings an amusing combination of bluster and confused frustration to the role of this aesthetically challenged hotel mogul lacking any appreciation of Cubbert's architectural skill. So skilled a comedian is McDaniel that he needs only to grunt and glare to evoke guffaws.

Cast as Waldgrave's nervous, long-suffering wife Clelia, and unfortunate mother of Thor is Nancy Dall, who quietly copes with her frustrations by asking her hosts for pieces of china to destroy with a hammer tht she carries in her purse.

As Thor, 11-year-old Michael Baca makes a memorable debut, annoying his parents, irritating hosts and guests, and being terrified by Rick.

My favorite was Axel Hammond as played by Joseph Mariano, witty, debonair and elegantly dressed. Axel writes his mostly negative reviews before seeing the shows and never stays for the endings.

Weaknesses in this production might be related to opening weekend. In the early scenes, Ben Carr as Willum Cubbert had timing difficulties that resulted in an inability to create a faster-paced comic rapport with Axel and Tansy, played by Victoria Hartford.

It was hard to detect chemistry between Hartford and Carr, who might have been equally believable as brother and sister. Both proved more believable with other actors - Hartford's Tansy was delightful in her scenes with Dall's Clelia, and Carr's Willum believable with Mummey's Rick.

Although some jokes might not have been intelligible to the under-50 crowd, they amused folks who understood references to Marjorie Main's gumption and grasped how nerdy Rick was to treasure his autographed 8-by-10 framed photo of Hugh Downs.

Still, this is a comedy filled with all kinds of humor, including weird charades games and hysterical sight gags, along with that twist at the end.

The Nerd continues at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park on weekends through Oct. 13. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for seniors and students. Information: 301-805-0219 or www.BCTheatre.com.

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