The Nerd Review
The latest production by the Hofstra Drama Department is an adaptation of Larry Shue’s play “The Nerd,” originally presented in 1981. Set in 1979 Terre Haute, Indiana, the play revolves around the socially grating antics of Rick Steadman (Nick Hoult), the titular nerd, as he disrupts the home life of architect Willum Cubbert (William Ketter) and weather reporter Tansy McGinnis (Caroline Orlando). Along for the ride are the Waldgraves, Warnock (Jared Lucier), a stern businessman for whom Willum is designing a hotel for, Clelia (Dana Mastrull), a high-strung children’s special needs therapist, and Thor (Martha Morton), a rowdy 10-year old boy characterized as the devil incarnate. Axel Hammond (Scott Mathews), Cubbert and McGinnis’ acerbic drama critic friend, rounds out the tight seven-member cast.
During the Vietnam War, Willum’s life was saved by Rick Steadman, a man he had never met, who but dragged him miles to the nearest hospital after the former was shot in both legs. Eternally grateful, Willum extended a stay of welcome to Rick if he ever ventured near Terre Haute. When Rick finally accepts the offer at a dinner party hosted for the Waldgraves, Willum is horrified to see the man’s socially inept conduct and left-of-field behavior. The rest of the play deals with Willum trying to expel Rick from his home without hurting the latter’s feelings.
The two-hour comedy is broken up into three parts, Act 1, Act 2 Scene 1, and Act 2 Scene 2, with the first Act being the longest. Following a 15-minute intermission, Act 2 Scene 1 provides audiences with a brief update on the state of affairs – dire – and then leads us into the last and best section of the production.
Act 2 Scene 2 pulls audiences full force into the surreal as Willum, Tansy and Axel try their best to impress on Rick their series of made-up Terre Haute traditions. The traditions veer from the mild, e.g. sand with tea, to increasingly wild, culminating in the climax of the play and the resolution. In the last act of the play, audiences who stay to the end get to see “The Nerd” corroborate its humor with a heart-warming central premise.
Each cast member delivers captivating performances in their respective roles, from William Ketter, who plays the increasingly exasperated Willum with perfect timing, to Martha Morton, who embodied a 10-year old boy better than any other sophomore college student could, adding much-needed texture to the cast’s interactions.
Dana Mastrull’s Clelia showcases a woman on the brink of nervous collapse with brilliant efficacy, bringing forward both laughter and anticipation in her portrayal. Warnock, as played by Jared Lucier, Clelia’s husband and a bullhorn of a person, sends tremors throughout the entire theatre with his booming voice.
While each performance played well separately, at times the passive element of silent actors on stage, watching as others deliver lines, removed audiences from the entirety of the play’s belief suspension.
For example, the razor-sharp Axel Hammond, who has some of the most biting lines in the play, feels out of place in his passive moments. Actor Scott Mathews shines in his moments of response, but the part of Axel has an inherent catch. As Axel delivers each laugh line, there begins to build an expectation of the character as a focal point on a stage often featuring only two other actors. When viewers begin to automatically look to the drama critic for catharsis in the slower moments of Act 1, they’re disappointed by his silence, instead finding another viewer – this one on the stage. Problems of dimensionality like this make Axel, as well as Caroline Orlando’s skillfully-acted Tansy, feel like roles that don’t allow their actors’ considerable abilities to shine at every opportune moment.
Rick Steadman, on the other hand, armed with enough laugh lines to nuke the audience’s insides, leaves crowds hungry for more of his brazen antics. Nick Hoult is perfect in his delivery as the social bomb of the play, leaving viewers desperate for escalation.
Under the direction of Christopher Dippel and the commitment of the entire cast and crew, “The Nerd” delivers a lighthearted, quirky two-hour experience that leaves audiences warm-hearted and happy.
“The Nerd” runs through Sunday, October 15th.