The Nerd

Way Over the Top Comedy

If you’re a fan of hyperactive, crazy, physical comedy then perhaps you’ll appreciate The Nerd, now on stage at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia.  Judging by the gales of laughter on opening night, much of the audience enjoyed the humour.

Hidden behind the over-the-top comedy is an interesting plot.  But in this production, the real story was lost because The Nerd himself is too frenetic and unbelievable.

Willum is an architect, and in love with his neighbour, Tansy.  Tansy, while she apparently likes Willum, is not ready to commit – in fact, she is making a career move to be a weather girl in Washington.  Willum’s tenant is Axel, a jaded theatre critic.  Tansy accuses him of selfishness – he never willingly helps out.

Willum has often told them about Rick Steadman who saved his life in the Viet Nam war.  Willum was unconscious and never met Rick, but they have kept in touch with Christmas cards.  Rick shows up and Willum, out of his sense of loyalty and feeling he owes Rick his life, takes him in.Nerd

It turns out Rick is the most annoying, socially inept nerd ever.  He irritates all of them, even more than the bratty kid who comes to visit.  The plot has an interesting twist in the end, which I won’t reveal.  But the surprise ending loses its impact, as the foreshadowing is missed in the ridiculous antics.

This play is dated – and it is important that we know we’ve been taken back to 1979.  A telephone answering machine and the Viet Nam war (only referred to as Nam in the show, which is unfamiliar to a Canadian audience’s ears) are central to the plot.  So unless the audience is aware that we are still in the seventies, those two key points are lost.

Because the play was written in the early eighties, some of the comedy is no longer funny.  We don’t laugh at the idea of a 30 year old man hanging around little girls in a school yard at recess.

Unfortunately, the costumes and set do not tell us the all-important year.  The beautiful fireplace is very modern, the furniture does not say seventies, and the costumes don’t give a clue as to the decade.  In fact, in the end when the two gentlemen show up in

tuxedos, we need ruffled shirts with giant bowties to tell us it is 1979.

Some of the silliness takes too much time.  A scene where all the characters have paper bags over their heads is hilarious, but they are left to flounder about a little too long.  In another scene, the characters are doing a fake pagan ritual, and while it is initially funny, it needs to be cut short. Perhaps the show will tighten up during the run.

Kevin Kruchkywich is excellent as Willum, the long-suffering Viet Nam vet and architect.  Michael DeRose is perfect as the sarcastic and quick-witted Axel – DeRose has good comedic timing.  Ashley Magwood is cute as Tansy but her soft voice doesn’t carry, and some of her funny lines are missed.  Rachel Jones is hilarious as the stressed out mother and Mark Weatherley is funny as the cottage-cheese covered hotel developer. Little Hunter Burgess plays the bratty screaming kid well.

Michael Hogeveen is the over-the-top nerd, Rick.  His shtick is reminiscent of an old Jerry Lewis movie, where he is so uncontrolled that he overpowers all the other characters.  It might be funnier if some of his energy was reined in.

If Director Kelli Fox is going for the loud laughs with frenzied physical comedy, then she has succeeded.  But those easy laughs are at the expense of the play’s interesting plot and message of altruism.

The Nerd continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until August 24.  Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca

Photo: Michael Hogeveen as The Nerd

The Nerd
Written By Larry Shue
Directed by Kelli Fox
Performed by Michael DeRose, Rachel Jones, Devin Kruchkywich, Ashley Magwood, Mark Weatherley and Hunter Burgess
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
August 12 to 24, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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