Due to an error on the part of critic: Elizabeth Hurd, the actor portraying Thor was incorrectly identified in this review. Please note that the actor mentioned should be Fulmer and not Tabor. My profound apologies to both of them.
Pollard Theatre Company continues the 24th Seasons of Laughter with Larry Shue’s “he Nerd.” This is one of two modern farcical comedies written by Mr. Shue whose untimely death in 1985 prevented further development as a playwright.
The cast stars Robert Matson as Rick Steadman, whose character is not only rather nerdy, but extremely annoying. Steadman is on vacation from his job as an inspector in a chalk factory when he descends upon Willum Cubbert (Craig Pruitt) and becomes the nightmare uninvited guest crashing a birthday dinner party (Act 1) and then moving in with the host indefinitely (Act 2). His job is appropriate as he is as annoying as scratchy chalk screaming on a blackboard. Rick Steadman gets away with this behaviour because he saved the unconscious Willum Cubbert in Viet Nam. So although they are meeting for the first time the debt should be paid.
The role of Steadman is clearly tailor made for Robert Matson. Rick must be so unbelievably annoying to his reluctant host and friends that getting rid of him is essential to sanity. Yet Matson must walk the line between achieving this standard without irritating the audience to the extent that the play is difficult to watch. Matson achieves this, but just barely. This production is well received by an audience who loves sophomoric humor. Otherwise the interpretation may seem contrived.
The performances of Pruitt, Crystal Ecker as girlfriend Tansy, James A. Hughes as Warnock Waldgrave, and Dana Poulson as Celia Waldgrave are outstanding. Those who are not fans of this type of one-dimensional farce can still appreciate fully the humor and talent these three characters portray. However, the performance of Timothy Stewart as friend and critic Axel Hammond is beyond outstanding. Stewart’s superb timing and delivery allow him to bring universality to the humor transcending limitations presented by the premise in the script. Some natural prejudice may occur from critics who empathize with the character, yet on reviewing the written script, it does seem as if the best lines are written for Hammond. Stewart is definitely up to the task!
The role of Thor Waldgrave, the mischievous son of Cubbert’s boss and his wife is played alternately by Ryne Tabor and Alex Fulmer. Opening night performance (Cast A: Tabor) indicates that some work needs to be done with Tabor. His performance is weak, yet he appears to have the same abilities that child actors at the Pollard usually display.
Director Doobie Potter handles the staging very well, and overall the show is well presented. The set design by James A. Hughes is visually challenging as it seems that the furniture is a little low for the sightlines. Potter compensates well, however a raised stage or even simply a slightly taller coffee table and higher seating on the couch would be a bit more comfortable for the audience seated in the middle rows and back.
Now that opening night jitters are behind, Potter would do well to spend just a little more time with the child actors, and Matson should revisit the final scene. Greater contrast in the last few minutes of this production could do much to validate the previous 2 hours. “The Nerd” serves simply to entertain and this production is a great choice for lovers of farce for the sake of farce.
“The Nerd” is presented through March 5, 2011 at the Pollard Theatre Company in historic downtown Guthrie. Reservations and information are available at www.thepollard.org or at the box office, 405.282.2800.