By Julie Tate
Last night my husband and I attended the opening night of Sandy Arts Guild’s production of Larry Shue’s The Nerd at the beautiful theater at Mount Jordan Middle School auditorium in Sandy. We had no idea that we were about to embark on a journey into the 70s complete with a cast of various characters who would, before the evening was through, tap into a vast array of emotions and allow us to laugh at our own human foibles, annoyances, and internal struggles when we sat down. It is not often that we come home with the desire to share the 70s with our kids, but this is one we will return with them to see.
The Nerd revolves around three friends who live in the same apartment building who are at various crossroads in their lives. Willum Cubbert (Tavnir Carey) is the aspiring architect who has grown too comfortable in his lifestyle and seems to be about to let his potential for happiness slip through his fingers. His neighbor and love-interest, Tansy McGinnis (Lindsay Higbee), tired of waiting for life to begin and love to blossom, has taken a job as a meteorologist far away in Washington, D.C. The other neighbor, Axel Hammond (Drew Thompson) is a theatre critic and a self-centered yet friendly quintessential bachelor who also lives in the building and has a history of a failed relationship with Tansy. Willum also sets the scene with his reference to an ex-GI who saved his life after he was wounded in “Nam,” Rick Steadman, who Willum had written to say that as long as he is alive, “you will have somebody on Earth who will do anything for you.” As the three gather in Willum’s apartment to celebrate his birthday, guests begin to arrive and hilarity ensues.
Guests to Willum’s party include first, the Waldgrave family. Warnock Waldgrave (Sean Buckley), or “Ticky” as he prefers to be called, is a shrewd and opinionated businessman with anger-management issues who has hired Willum to design a fancy hotel for him, yet trusts none of Willum’s expertise and advice. He brings along his wife, Clelia Waldgrave (Kristi Gowda), a special needs’ teacher with her own concealed hidden anger-management issue, and his son, Thor (Ryder Mason), an unruly 11-year-old who clearly rules the roost and makes no attempt to manage his anger. The three friends manage the quirky relationship issues of the Waldgrave family as if it’s second nature, and the humor of these various personalities at the party is enough to fill the air with laughter. The arrival of the Nerd, Rick Steadman (Zackery Western), an unbelievably odd, socially unaware, invasive, obnoxious misfit-type who Willum credits with saving his life in Viet Nam but who he never had the chance to meet in person. The addition of Steadman makes the Waldgraves seem tame and adds a dimension of humor that elevates the hilarity to an entirely new level. We spent the next hour and a half laughing ourselves in and out of our seats, grabbing each other, glancing back at our programs to affirm that these indeed are characters on a stage and not real people, and identifying with each and every character in ways that make us uncomfortable and even embarrassed. These characters are people in Willum’s life who leave messages on his machine and whose presence pulls Willum to take more chances, but up until the arrival of the Nerd he has ignored.
The actors have great chemistry onstage and waste no time establishing their different roles and the dynamics between them. Carey is impeccable at portraying the tame architect who is docile and follows the rules of society but has forgotten how to express his own opinion and chase his desires, even when they are dangling in front of him. In Higbee, we see the career woman who is love-scarred and torn between her desire for her own personal growth and development and her desire to be cherished by a good man, and tired of waiting for him to show up. Thompson embodies the suave bachelor next-door who might be enticing but who always puts himself as number one in life. Buckley, Gowda, and Mason form the Waldgrave family, who embody the perfectly dysfunctional modern-day family whose attempts to manage their relationship issues hit close to home for all of us in the audience, however embarrassed we are to admit it. Watching the entire cast of characters evolve through the course of the six-days time-lapse in the play takes the audience deeper into the self-awareness that we could each be one of the characters up there.
Western’s Steadman is side-splittingly flawless. He definitely completes an already impeccable cast. From his facial expressions and his voice inflections to his hand gestures and repetitive invasion of the other people’s personal space onstage, we in the audience find ourselves both cringing and gagging and wanting more simultaneously. We laugh uncontrollably at his disgusting table manners, his hilarious unawareness of social propriety, and his complete immersion into this character who sticks to Cubbert like a parasitic leech on its host. He leads the rest of the cast into zany hilarity in the second act, and his Steadman provokes all of the other characters out of their own comfort zones into crazy behavior of their own. By the end of the production, Director Lisa Noyes successfully leads this delicious cast of characters so the audience sees the epiphany of Willum. Sometimes it takes something wild and crazy to yank us out of our comfort zones and into the life that will lead us to happiness and growth, while at the same time leaving us all hoping that it won’t necessarily be something as uncomfortable as a Rick Steadman showing up at our door to inspire change in us.
A view of the stage, with Set and Props Design by Dwight Western, transports us back into the groovy 70s, complete with olive green sofas, oak dining tables, and even brown and orange stripes across the walls. The costuming by Chad McBride is spot on, complete with wedge sandals, brown tweed suits, denim patchwork bell bottoms, and taped glasses, bow tie, and houndstooth floods for Steadman. The Makeup and Hair Design by Alanna Cottam also hit the mark with blue eye shadow and wavy hair a la Farrah Fawcett on Higbee. Lighting Designer Rick Marson does a great job highlighting and accentuating The Nerd.
Whether you are a child of the 70s, have a nerd in your family, or just plain want a good laugh as you glance into the foibles of human behavior, Sandy’s The Nerd is for you. It is family friendly for all ages. Young children might not understand all of the dialogue and nuances, but Western will keep them entertained and laughing, and yummy treats at intermission will occupy the moments they don’t understand. All will leave the theater with a smile on their face and a light heart, grateful that Steadman isn’t at their home tonight.
Sandy Arts Guild presents The Nerd by Larry Shue
The Theater at Mount Jordan, 9351 South Mountaineer Lane, Sandy Utah 84070
February 16-17, 23-24, March 2-3 7:30 PM
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