There are some shows that should say “Leave rational thinking at the door.”
This would be great advice for those attending the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of “The Nerd,” which opened Wednesday evening in the Warsaw theater. Little if any rational thinking is required for the total enjoyment of this fairly insane farce.
“The Nerd” is one of two comedies by the late Larry Shue, an actor/playwright who died in a plane crash at age 39. After seeing “The Nerd,” one wonders what theatrical insanity he might have created had he lived to a ripe old age.
Never mind. “The Nerd” and his second frantic farce, “The Foreigner,” provide enough laughs to last for decades.
The seven character comedy begins quietly enough with only hints of the full-out riots that are to follow. The setting — which is odd enough — is Terre Haute. The characters’ names also are somewhat deliberately off kilter — Willum, Tansy, Axel, Clelia, Thor and Warnock. The only character with a fairly reasonable designation is Rick Steadman (aka The Nerd).
Nevermind. That is the least of the nonsensical goings-on.
Willum Cubbert (Matthew Janisse) is an architect dealing with the impending departure of his girlfriend Tansy McGinnis (Jennifer Dow) for a Weather Girl job in Washington, D.C., and with the arrival-for-dinner of his newest client Warnock (“Call Me Ticki”) Waldgrave (Kyle Timson) with his wife Clelia (Kira Lace Hawkins) and son Thor (Parker Irwin). Commenting caustically on both the departure and arrivals is Willum’s best friend, theater critic Alex Hammond (Rob Montgomery).
Willum, according to Tansy, could use “a little gumption,” a thought that becomes apparent as the evening goes on. She also, incidentally, challenges Alex to do someone “an anonymous favor,” before she leaves town.
The dinner guests are a collective nightmare. Thor, described by Alex as “the poster child for planned parenthood,” is a screaming nightmare (and Irwin delivers some piercing chillers) while Clelia is obviously a nervous wreck (check her crockery-destroying outlet) and Ticki, a dominating blowhard.
Tension mounts but it peaks when Steadman (Matt Hill) arrives. He saved Willum’s life in Vietnam and, it turns out, is on hand because of Willum’s promise to do anything and everything he could for him in the future. The two have not ever come face to face.
Steadman soon proves to be the visitor from Hell and wastes no time in taking over Willum’s party, his apartment and, it seems, his life. Getting rid of Steadman becomes the top priority of Willum, Tansy and Alex. There is no need to try and describe their plots, enough to say that they are increasingly wild and unbelievable — to anyone but Rici.
Under the direction of Tony Humrichhouser, who returns to the Wheel every summer to demonstrate his increasing directorial skills, the cast literally goes crazy with their characters and the galloping plotline. Somewhere in the first act my sides began to ache from laughing and “The Nerd” offered no opportunity to stop.
Everyone obviously is having a great time with his/her respective characters. Montgomery has, some would say, “all the good lines.” Each is a zinger and the actor deposits them accurately and with well-deserved authority. Janisse emerges slowly from his self-effacing cocoon and his point-of-no-return explosion is well-deserved. Dow is properly supportive as the sanest of the bunch and Hawkins turns in another solid characterization as the cowering spouse. Timson’s Ticki is right on as the boss you love to hate. As the adenoidal Steadman, Hill is the personification of his title role, giving new meaning to “Nerd.” He is every host’s worse nightmare and definitely will make you think twice before making a sweeping gesture of “thanks,” no matter how life-saving the incident.
“THE NERD” plays through Aug. 10 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For show times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com