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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Jana J. Monji
Larry Shue's The Nerd is one of the few theatrical pieces in which a theater critic is the hero. He's suave, he's witty and although he doesn't get the girl, we're not even sure he wanted her. But he is not, of course, the eponymous twit.
The twit part, Rick Steadman, is played by French Stewart. If you've seen Stewart as Harry Solomon on Third Rock from the Sun, you know he's had practice playing a doofus, and does it well. In Burbank's Colony Theatre Company production of The Nerd he's lost the sweetness and innocence of Harry Solomon. This nerd is annoying in a scratching on the chalkboard way.
In case you're not familiar with this often produced play, Steadman saved Willum Cubbert (Ed. F. Martin) when he was wounded in Vietnam. Cubbert was unconscious and never saw the face of his saviour, but he and Steadman wrote to each other after they were both home in the States. Cubbert promised Steadman his undying gratitude but did not count on him arriving and turning into the nightmare guest who never leaves. That arrival coincides with Cubbert's birthday for which his sometime girlfriend Tansy (Faith Coley Salie) has fixed up massive quantities of food. Also present to witness Steadman embarassing Cubbert are Warnock Waldgrave (Jonathan Palmer), his wife Clelia (Cindy Warden), their bratty son (Justin M. Bretter) and, to lighten up the proceedings, theater critic and professional sarcastic wit, Axel (Kevin Symons).
Director David Rose emphasizes Stewart's role, but comedically he isn't the only one carrying the show. Warden is priceless as the suppressed, homely wife in a dowdy and shapeless pastel plaid skirt and patterned sweater. Each contortion of her face and body is hilarious. Palmer blusters and roars impatiently as the rigid, commanding businessman with no time to waste and no sense of humor, but can't possibly upstage Warden. Ed Martin, who played Charlie Brown in the Colony's recent staging of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, is again the sad sack who finally explodes. His Cubbert is sympathetic but there is a lack of fireworks between him and Faith Salie's Tansy. We just have to believe Axel the suave, critical mover's word for it that they are meant for each other.
If you wince at the thought of investing your sympathies in an unlovable nerd, who might be mentally challenged as the butt of this one joke play, don't worry. There's a twist on the way to a happy ending. The Nerd is an extended joke with nothing deep about friendship or self-sacrifice here. Inn this production, however, it's a joke that's well told.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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