Press enter after choosing selection

AACT's 'Nerd' Is Laughable - And That's Enough

AACT's 'Nerd' Is Laughable - And That's Enough image
Parent Issue
Copyright Protected
Rights Held By
Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News.
OCR Text

AACT's 'Nerd' is laughable — and that's enough



I wouldn’t hazard a guess whether Larry Shue was a wild man, a wimp or perhaps a mixture of both. But I’m now ready to believe we’re all the poorer for the loss of this actor-playwight, who died in a plane crash eight

years ago.

REVIEW Perhaps Shue had no loftier the------------------atrical ambition than to make people laugh, as Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s staging of 1981’s “The Nerd” merrily bears out. Though the show tvould probably rank about 150th on a scale of 200 American plays, so what as long as it leaves one chucking and happy?

I’ve never chuckled much over Shue’s more famous ‘The Foreigner,” a show so overloaded with cornball eccentrics it comes across more desperate than witty. Yet “The Nerd” clings just enough to reality that it’s more than an exercise in silliness.

One can identify with sweet, slumped Willum Cubbert (played by Larry Rusinsky), a Terre Haute, Ind. architect. Rueful Willum’s mired in a crummy building project, and worse, he’s about to lose his once-true love, Tansy McGinnis (Leigh-Ann Danner) to a TV weathercasting job in Washington, D.C.

One can wince at Tansy’s emotional tug-of-war between her career and lingering love for Willum. One can certainly identify with friend Axel Hammond (Hal Wolfe), a wisecracking theater critic who’s really a nice guy underneath. (We all are, honest.)

These three folks form a cornerstone of substance to play off against Shue’s crazed ascensions into sitcom-land. Certainly they help make house guest Rick Steadman (Tom Underwood), a living cartoon with no link to the real world, funnier than he might otherwise be.

It seems Willum’s life was saved by Rick in the Vietnam War. Yet since Willum was unconscious at the time, he never actually met his rescuer. Always decent, Willum’s pledged eternal indebtedness to Rick should they ever meet.

When Rick suddenly shows up, he proves the house guest from hell. A naive yokel, he has the world’s most boring job - inspecting boxes of chalk - and loves talking about it.

He tells bad jokes, gapes blankly at good jokes, does bad impressions (“Jimmy Durante. Before he died.”), sings “The Star Spangled Banner” while playing a tambourine, destroys messages on Willum’s answering machine, grossly disrupts a plane flight and literally rubs salt in a wound.

Will poor Willum go nuts before conceding he doesn’t owe his world to this chuckleheaded boor? Underwood makes Rick wonderfully unbearable, puttering about in a sing-songy cartoon voice and squinching up his Silly-Putty face. Yet Rusinsky’s even funnier playing straight man: His depiction of a nice guy driven to desperation could only be described as exuberant depression, and it’s priceless.

The two actors are so strong that the remainder of director Charles Jackson’s cast is overshadowed. Yet there’s solid work straight down the line, especially from R. Brian Falkner as Willum’s businessman-bully client, and above all, from Margie Cohen as the exec’s wife - who gets along fine so long as she can smash a dish as a kind of Valium substitute.

Jackson cannily hones “The Nerd’s” zippy comic timing - the play’s essential ingredient - to a tee. The production enforces the notion that Larry Shue’s talent never extended much beyond situation comedy writing.

But at least it was great sitcom writing.

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of "The Nerd" continues nightly through Sunday at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N. University Ave. Curtain each night is 8 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday. For information, call 763-1085.

Picture: Tom Underwood and R. Brian Falkner in AACT production of Larry Shue's 'The Nerd.'