The Nerd

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We theater critics are getting tired of saying it, but it’s true: Off Broadway Theatre does best when it performs its own shows.

OBT-written shows are loony pop-culture parodies, filled with puns, sight gags and improvisation. They fit perfectly with the theater that is also home to the Quick Wits improv troupe — especially since the shows are usually cast with Quick Wits performers, guys right at home winging it now and then if need be (or even if not need be).

Putting them in someone else’s show reigns them in, and it doesn’t help when the play being done — currently “The Nerd” — is a mediocre one to begin with.

Architect Willum Cubbert (Ben Porter) is having a birthday party, thrown by his girlfriend, Tansy (Sheryl Coe) and a woman named Axel (Shauna Scott), whose relationship to the other two is never really established.

A surprise guest turns out to be Rick Steadman (Shawn Zumbrunnen), a guy who saved Willum’s life back in `Nam. They haven’t seen each other since then, and everyone is horrified to find that Rick is a hyperactive, socially inept nerd who plans to stay at Willum’s house for a week or more. Willum refuses to throw him out, though; after all, the guy DID save his life.

Zumbrunnen plays Rick whole-heartedly and with great physical agility. His voice is a combination of Bill Murray’s “Caddyshack” character and Adam Sandler’s “Waterboy” character. Unfortunately, while Rick is funny for a few minutes, he’s too one-dimensional to last. The situation would make a great five-minute comedy sketch; as a full-length play, the character doesn’t hold out.

You gotta give playwright Larry Shue (“The Foreigner”) credit, though, for finding a number of innovative ways for Rick to annoy. He does bad impressions, tells boring stories, has disgusting eating habits, ignores others’ personal space, and makes the party group play pointless games (“Shoes and Socks” being his favorite).

Aside from entertainment derived briefly from Rick’s antics, about the only other major laughs come from Willum’s boss Ticky Waldgrave (Robert Bogue), an immature, bombastic loud-mouth. He has no idea how to discipline his rambunctious son, who also comes to the party; when the boy locks himself in the bathroom, Ticky offers him $50 to come out. When the boy demands more, Ticky yells, “I’ll see you in hell first!” The idea of a cutthroat businessman treating his son the way he’d treat the CEO of a rival company is hysterical. Alas, it soon goes away, and we’re left with a show that, like the title character, wears out its welcome way too fast.

Honestly, "I'll see you in hell first!" is one of my favorite lines of any show I've ever seen. More plays should use it, particularly the Shakespearean ones.

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