Encore Michigan

Williamston revives “The Nerd” with great success

Review November 28, 2016 Bridgette Redman

WILLIAMSTON, Mich. – There are some shows that are so beautifully crafted, filled with clever humor and imbued with energy that they remain favorites throughout the years. One such show is Larry Shue’s The Nerd, which is being resurrected at Williamston Theatre for their holiday slot.

Directed by John Lepard, this show seeks to entertain and accomplishes that goal with a team of actors who never shy away from the over-the-top humor that makes this comedy a classic. Lepard starts them out on an even keel and makes the show build in intensity and humor, making the most of each scene by carving out an arc of expectations. He gives each comedic moment the air it needs while keeping the show galloping at a fast pace.

The Nerd features Greg Hunter as Willum Cuthert and Kristy Allen as Tansy McGinnis, a couple who are both fond of each other but haven’t quite made that jump into the relationship they both want and that their friend Alex Hammond, played by Blake Bowen, keeps pushing. Into their predictable lives comes Rick Steadman, played by Eric Eilersen. He saved Willum’s life in Vietnam and is the nerd of the play’s title. He turns everything upside down, throwing Willum’s life into disarray.

Allen and Hunter are both MSU theater students and are in the show as part of Williamston’s collaboration with the university. They both comfortably inhabit their roles and have great chemistry together. They make you root for them and hope that they’ll end up together.

Hunter is especially effective as he goes from the staid, almost boring architect to a man under siege in his own home. He lets the desperation slowly break through his calm veneer until he is transformed into a new man and finds himself doing things he’d never dreamed of doing before.

Allen’s most humorous moments come in the frustration she shows and tries to hide. She is the perfect hostess and friend and tries to accommodate even the strangest requests from the people who pass through Willum’s life. She communicates much in her pained expressions and the way she moves throughout the stage.

Bowen has fun with Axel, delighting in his sophisticated word play, suave behavior and pointed observations. He provides a sharp contrast to the nerdish, provincial outlook of Rick Steadman. He slips easily in and out of accents and commits to the high-energy demands the script places on the character.

In the center of the play is the eponymous nerd, which Eilersen plays with great relish. He is fully committed to each bizarre, outlandish and convention-breaking line and action. He has the audience shaking their head and immediately in sympathy for Willum who has committed to do anything for this man who saved his life in Vietnam. Eilersen stays point-on every moment of the play, never once breaking no matter how outrageous his actions become. He pushes every other character on stage to their breaking point and then pushes just a little further. He’s a delight to watch and keeps the stakes high for everyone, but especially Willum.

Rounding out the cast is the family of Willum’s boss: Alex Leydenfrost as Warnock Waldgrave, Anne Miranda as Cielia Wladgrave and Desten Knox as Thor Waldgrave. They show up expecting a sophisticated birthday dinner and are assaulted with the antics of Rick Steadman, turning the evening into something they’ll never forget. Leydenfrost is commanding as the executive used to getting his own way with everyone but his bratty son. Miranda is a tight ball of nerves, trying to hold things together when everything stresses her out. Knox has great fun with the part of the miscreant child. He is impassioned in this temper tantrums and energetic in his interactions with an adult world gone askew.

The Nerd is a play that must stick to its original setting of November, 1979, a world where women are just starting to come into their own in the workplace, answering machines remain an important form of communication and a 30-something man has vivid memories of his time on the ground in Vietnam during the war. Making sure the setting speaks to its time is the always outstanding work of Michelle Raymond, the props designer who fills the stage with everything needed to make an apartment look realistic and lived in. Barley H. Bauer’s scenic design makes a three-door apartment work well in Williamston’s intimate space without it seeming crammed.

Williamston’s The Nerd is well put together and a bit of classic comedy that can bring laughter and escapism to the holiday season. It’s the revival of a classic that is still fresh in its ability to tickle the funny bone and plant joy in the closing days of 2016.

Click here for show days, times and details.

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