Review: ‘The Nerd’ at Prince George’s Little Theatre at the Bowie Playhouse

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Now in its 58th season, The Nerd is Prince George’s Little Theatre’s 192nd production. Scripted by Larry Shue, the zany comedy is directed by John Degnan, a long-time area director and retired NASA laser physicist. It was produced by PGLT Board President Malia Murray, who deftly handled multiple duties as the sound, properties and set decoration designer.

Terry Averill was the set designer. Lighting design was done by Garrett Hyde; Hillary Glass and Maureen Roult were, respectively, costume designer and hair and makeup designers.

James McDaniel, Nora Zanger, Patrick O’Connell, Patrick Pase, Melanie Pino-Elliott, and Allen Cole. Photo by Malia Murray.

The show is set in November 1979, in Terre Haute, Indiana. On view is part of the main floor of the home of Willum Cubbert: a living room and dining area, plus a small office area dominated by a very vocal answering machine.

Five onstage doors lead, from left to right, to Cubbert’s bedroom, the front door, a closet, a hallway and the kitchen. One of the two windows onstage gets a workout, too.

The Nerd has a history dating back to its debut in Milwaukee in 1981. It had a successful run on Broadway in the late ‘80s – directed by Charles Nelson Reilly and starring Mark Hamill a decade after his first Star Wars appearance – and in London’s West End theater district.

Willum Cubbert (portrayed by Patrick O’Connell, who bears a resemblance to Mark Hamill), is a single architect and a Vietnam veteran who received a Purple Heart for his injuries. A placid character, he is currently involved in a hotel design project for multi-hotel owner Warnock Waldgrave (James McDaniel). Cubbert rents part of his home to two friends, Tansy McGinnis (Melanie Pino-Elliott), with whom he is in love but has a platonic relationship and, downstairs, to Axel Hammond (Allen Cole), a snarky drama critic previously engaged to Tansy.

Tansy, who now has strong feelings for Cubbert, has decided to take a job as a TV meteorologist in Washington, D.C. She will be moving to The Capitol City in a week. She has given up waiting for him to take decisive action in their relationship.

As a real estate tycoon, Warnock Waldgrave is used to getting his way. He is full of bluster, drama, anger and venom (sound familiar?). His wife, Clelia Waldgrave (Nora Zanger), not surprisingly, keeps her emotions bottled up. When she needs relief, she breaks things – usually other people’s things.

Their wildly dysfunctional son Thor Waldgrave (Gus Martone) is described as “a poster child for Planned Parenthood.”

Then, there’s the quirky Rick Steadman (Patrick Pase). From his accent and bearing – a spot-on accent, bearing and personality of North Wisconsin natives – to his lack of manners, this guy is the guest no one wants at their dinner table.

Except Cubbert.

Back in Vietnam, Steadman saved Cubbert’s life after he was attacked and left injured and unconscious. Steadman dragged him 1 ½ miles through the jungle to safety. Though the two men have never met, Cubbert, through occasional cards and notes,  has said he owes his life to Steadman and would do anything to help him.

Patrick Pase, Allen Cole, Patrick O’Connell, James McDaniels, Nora Zanger, and Melanie Pino-Elliott. Photo by Malia Murray.

The show opens with Hammond and Pino-Elliott hiding behind the living room couch a few days after Halloween. It’s Cubbert’s 34th birthday. The two plan to surprise Cubbert by jumping him when he arrives home – and they’re hosting a birthday dinner for him. They discuss Cubbert’s lack of “gumption” to pursue Pino-Elliott more seriously because he’s fully involved in the design of the hotel. Pino-Elliott criticizes Hammond for his lack of kindness; he’s never really done an “anonymous good deed.”

Hammond’s present is a bottle of whisky – which gets a good workout during the show. Not long after Cubbert comes home, the Waldgrave family arrives. Warnock Waldgrave is in anger mode and Thor Waldgrave, shrieking, runs into the bedroom and locks the door. Inside, the youngster proceeds to riffle through Cubbert’s wardrobe.

Later on, when the hosts and guests are elsewhere, a strange, beastlike figure enters the house and conceals himself behind the couch. When the beast is revealed, it turns out to be the mysterious savior, Rick Steadman. What emerges from behind the mask and furry costume is an even worse beast: a self-invited houseguest who won’t take a hint and go away. Steadman sports glasses with a taped nosepiece, a short sleeved white shirt, narrow black tie, black pleat front trousers and new Converse high tops.

He’s apparently tired of his job as a worker in a chalk factory and his own family has abandoned him. Steadman describes his father as “departed.” When Cubbert offers condolences, Steadman says his father didn’t die, he merely moved far away.

He brings along a tambourine (with which he accompanies himself loudly all night) and knows the words to the old Brownie Scout song … “I’ve got something in my pocket, it belongs across my face. I keep it very close at hand, in a most convenient place …” (It’s only cute when little kids sing it.)

Steadman’s the houseguest from hell, or as another character describes him “the Amityville Horror.”

In this quirky, two-act slapstick comedy, it will take a lot of Steadman’s nonsense for Cubbert to snap.

Adding to the tension is a mystery caller who keeps leaving messages on the weird answering machine offering Cubbert a job designing a residential development in Alexandria, Virginia – just a few miles from Washington, D.C.

Patrick O’Connell, Patrick Pase, James McDaniel, Nora Zanger, Melanie Pino-Elliott, and Allen Cole. Photo by Malia Murray.

The plot involves a surprising “twist” that hits like a bolt out of the blue.

Ironically, during Friday’s opening night, a severe thunderstorm began moments after the play began – and did not let up until well after the show’s end. The resulting thunder, lightning and noise of rain pounding on the theater’s metal roof drowned out entire sections of dialog and made other parts hard to hear. A couple of the actors stumbled over their lines after particularly noisy thunder blasts. Hopefully, audiences for The Nerd’s remaining shows will not have those problems.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

The Nerd plays through August 26, 2017 at Prince George’s Little Theatre, Inc. performing at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 Whitemarsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 937-7458 Ext. 1, or purchase them online.

 

 

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