Every time I see Larry Shue’s comedy “The Nerd,” I think, “Wouldn’t this be better as a five-minute ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch, rather than a full-length play?”
This time, while watching it at the Little London Dinner Theater, I realized it’s actually two sketches, not one.
The first sketch is based on the premise of a bored Indiana architect named Willum (Paul Hill) whose friend Axel (Bob Manning, also director) and girlfriend Tansy (MaryAnn Hill) throw him a birthday party, which is crashed by the title character, Rick Steadman (Chad Fulton). The joke? He’s annoying, boorish and stupid, but Willum can’t throw him out. Rick saved his life during Desert Storm and Willum promised he’d always be a friend to him.
Add to that the twist repeated many times in any sitcom starring Lucille Ball — that of the blustery boss (Troy E. Hofheins) showing up for dinner, too, thus jeopardizing the host’s job when he, too, is assaulted by the nerd — and you’ve got yourself an amusing skit. That lasts for an hour.
The second skit is the second act, after Rick has been living with Willum for a week and is wreaking havoc on his life. Unwilling to just evict him, Willum instead agrees to Axel’s plan of making up a crazy evening of “traditional” Terre Haute fun, hoping that Rick will leave on his own when he sees what weirdos these are. (Example: Tansy rushes out of the kitchen and offers, “Boiling hot tar all over your face?”) Of course this also backfires. For an hour.
In short, “The Nerd” is an amusing, farcical show that seeks to do nothing more than entertain. The moral of the story is negligible; this is a play that’s just there for giggles. It provides those giggles, to be sure, and being without substance is certainly OK for a comedy — but if that’s the route you’re going, you need to make it shorter than 2 1/2 hours, which is long for ANY comedy, but especially one that’s not going to add up to anything.
The show would move more swiftly if the actors would pick up the pace a little. On opening night, there was often too much empty space between lines; this will probably be fine-tuned over time, and I bet the show gets five minutes shorter.
Bob Manning is great as Axel, a sarcastic theater critic (hey…!) who gets all the best lines. (“‘Giants take over Atlanta,'” he says, glancing at a newspaper. “I hope that’s the sports section.”) He’s an intellectual balance to the more physical antics of Rick the nerd.
Speaking of whom, Chad Fulton does more with the Rick character than many actors do. He has only one personality trait — “annoying” — yet he avoids going over-the-top and annoying the audience, too. If it’s possible to be “restrained” in the wacky role of Rick, Fulton does it admirably.
I noticed that many of Axel's very funny lines in the first few moments of the show didn't get laughs. I've noticed this before, and I think it's because the audience is logy from having just eaten dinner.