Let's hope you never have a houseguest like the one currently visiting Theater Works, which is presenting Larry Shue's uproarious comedy The Nerd.
This guest is a nerd in the traditional sense--taped glasses, a pocket protector, and toilet paper hanging out of high-water trousers--and is inappropriate at every opportunity.
In staging The Nerd, Theater Works has overcome obstacles that might have stopped a lesser organization. The troupe was forced to vacate its former venue and, to complete its season uninterrupted, has converted an old dress boutique into a workable performing space. It is not ideal: The stage is raised only five inches, and the seating is not raked. Onstage, chairs and couches are set on eight-inch platforms. Actors are on their feet almost constantly, ensuring that they can be seen.
Nevertheless, this show sparkles.
The Nerd is about Willum Cubbert's 34th birthday party. His only guests are to be his girlfriend, Tansy; his best friend, Alexandra; his biggest client, Warnock Waldgrave; and the client's family. But a surprise guest arrives in the person of Rick Steadman, a man who once saved Willum's life and who is taking Willum up on a long-standing offer of shelter.
Rick turns this quiet affair into a cross between National Lampoon's Animal House and Hay Fever. He humiliates Waldgrave and his wife, scares Waldgrave's son, destroys some of Willum's drawings and demeans Willum at every turn. Only Willum's strong sense of obligation keeps him from throwing Rick out. The strain eventually gets to Willum, who learns the meaning of true misery.
Director Wes Martin has a wonderful group of performers who make excellent use of this comic script. Though the pacing is lax at times and Martin's blocking options are limited, the script carries the evening from one laugh to the next.
Shue has created an actor's dream role in Rick, who gets a laugh with every line. In that role, Tom D'Vorak is the perfect cross between Forrest Gump and Steve Martin. D'Vorak is every English teacher's nightmare as he massacres all accepted forms of the vernacular to a consistently hilarious end. Usually cast in "normal" roles, D'Vorak shows his range as this bumbling social misfit. He infuses the show with energy.
Matthew Cary, as Willum, is a wonderful foil for Rick's antics. Cary's smooth delivery and convincing physical humor are as real as D'Vorak's performance is over the top. Cary's talent is clear as he delivers several anecdotes about his interaction with Rick; during these lengthy monologues, Cary never loses the audience and continually emphasizes Shue's humor.
Michele Ludden is sweet as Tansy; but Dina L. Kurbat-Mauldin, though competent as Alexandra (a role usually cast as a male), does not bring the same comic levels she has shown in other productions.
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Tim McConeghy, as Waldgrave, struggles with his character; he seems out of step with those around him, stilted instead of stern.
The Nerd is sophomoric and delivers little of social significance--and it does so in such a winning way. If you thought your troubles were overwhelming, check out Willum Cubbert's.
The Nerd continues through Sunday, January28, at Theater Works, 9850 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria.