This summer The Brown County Playhouse revives Larry Shue’s comic farce The Nerd, a story of three thirty-something baby boomers in Terre Haute. Guest actor James Krag plays Willum, a pale and hapless architect stuck between a meaningless vision and commercialism. The rest of the cast is peopled with veteran members of IU’s Master of Fine Arts Program.
As the girl friend who’s leaving town for a gig as a weather girl in Washington D.C., Molly Casey is decidedly undecided. Jaysen Wright offers his usual warmth as a curmudgeonly friend who’s found a full time job reviewing theatre in the Cross Roads City. They’re both trying to think of something to get Willum out of his rut.
Henry McDaniel plays Willum’s blustering client. He pushes Willum around, controls his real estate, and domineers over his wife (played mousily by Abby Rowold), but fails to influence his energetic son, Ben Johnson. As McDaniel tries to exert his power by getting his new building to meet his taste, Rowold keeps her temper in check by smashing dishes. Johnson, meanwhile, is…well…just trying.
At this point, Alex McCausland enters as the nerd. Years ago in Vietnam, McCausland’s character saved Willum’s life. They never met, but the architect is indebted. Self-centered and socially unaware, the nerd is a walking, talking irritant. Willum tries to put up with him, but he’s an impossibly demanding guest.
When The Quartet Is Complete
Frankly, sometimes revisiting a warm memory makes you wish you hadn’t. That’s the way I feel about the Brown County Playhouse’s production of Larry Shue’s The Nerd. What I remember as fresh, funny, and involving in 1989 now seems dated and only sporadically amusing.
The Playhouse has borrowed Cardinal Stage’s Director Randy White to lead an accomplished cast with the IU MFA students, the out-of-town guest and a promising child actor for the show. With the exception of the guest and the child, I’ve applauded work by all of them. Here they seem a disconnected and unappealing bunch with only occasional flashes of attraction.