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Review: THE NERD at Taproot Theatre

A goofy comedy that still provides some laughs but feels dated.

Review: THE NERD at Taproot Theatre
Darius Sakui, Matthew Posner,
Valerie Ryan Miller, Kate Jaeger,
David Quicksall, and Conner Neddersen in
The Nerd at Taproot Theatre Company.
Photo credit: Robert Wade.

Larry Shue's raucous comedy "The Nerd" was a staple of midrange to small theaters all over back in the 80's and 90's. It was zany, smart, and didn't require too many outlandish elements. So, I was fairly excited to catch this new local production currently being offered at Taproot Theatre, especially with the people in the cast. However, I'm not sure if the show is just not that funny anymore or if this production missed the mark but, while still having some definite gut buster moments, much of it fell flat.

The premise of the annoying guest who won't leave is sound. Meek Willum Cubbert (Conner Neddersen) has a respectable life but not great. He has good friends in the sassy Axel (Darius Sakui) and his girlfriend Tansy (Valerie Ryan Miller), and a good job as an architect designing hotels for Warnock Waldgrave (David Quicksall). But Tansy is about to move away to Washington DC and Waldgrave turns out to be a tyrant of a boss who kills any esthetic vision Willum might have. Things come to a head on Willum's birthday when Waldgrave comes by for dinner along with his wife Clelia (Kate Jaeger) and their son Thor (played by Sage Russell on the night I went), when Willum's old buddy Rick (Matthew Posner) arrives. Rick saved Willum's life in the Vietnam War, but they've never officially met, and Willum feels he owes him everything. But Rick turns out to be a ... well, to use the descriptive term that worked in the 80's, a nerd. He's obtuse, overbearing, and completely oblivious to his own bad behavior. And the hilarity ensues.

It's basically a two-hour episode of "Three's Company", which begs the question, is that funny anymore? I recall this show as being one of the funniest, right up there with "Noises Off" but while I still find "Noises Off" hilarious, this one felt awkward and uncomfortable most of the night. Have my sensibilities really changed that much? I think it's partially that but also the direction from Karen Lund and Marianne Savell and some of the performances felt off. In a show like this timing and pace is all and it just felt wonky making many of the jokes fall like a lead balloon.

The cast seems constantly working quite hard to dig their way out of the hole they're in, striving with all their might for the laughs, but the harder they tried the more uncomfortable it got. There are some exceptions. Posner delivers a truly annoying character, in the best possible sense. He's awkward to the point of dangerous and that affords quite a few laughs but even he falls into the timing trap especially in moments where he's bantering back and forth with others. Those moments can kill but felt sloppy. Neddersen plays the straight man well as he tries to keep the antics and craziness under control until he finally lets it overtake him. But even there, I could have used a bit more from him. Miller, sadly, isn't given much to do by Shue as she's mostly there for window dressing but she managed some great moments between herself and Jaeger. And Jaeger, who has one of the smaller roles in the piece, took every moment the script afforded her and ran with them. Honestly, I could have used an entire play about Clelia, but then that's usually how it goes with Jaeger in any role.

Two characters that should have killed in the show just fell flat. Sakui as the sardonic Axel has some of the best one-liners in the show but kept delivering them more angrily than sarcastic. And Quicksall needed some levels for the tyrannical Waldgrave as he started off angry and yelling and stayed there. And both suffered the most from the bad comedic timing I spoke of. They each had a few moments but overall felt strained. I don't know if it was an off night or that's how they were directed but it just didn't work. Quite surprising especially for Quicksall as I've seen him in much better roles.

There were certainly some very funny moments but those were overshadowed by a cast and a play I wanted to enjoy so much more. And so, with my three-letter rating system I give Taproot Theatre's production of "The Nerd" a somewhat let down MEH+. Maybe it's time we let this play go the way of the dodo.

"The Nerd" performs at Taproot Theatre through June 18th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.taproottheatre.org.



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