By Daniel Nguyen
The latest production by the Hofstra Drama Department adapts Larry Shue’s play, “The Nerd,” originally presented in 1981.
Set in 1979 Terre Haute, Indiana, the play revolves around the socially grating antics of Rick Steadman (Nick Hoult), the titular nerd, as he disrupts the home life of architect Willum Cubbert (William Ketter) and weather reporter Tansy McGinnis (Caroline Orlando).
Along for the ride are the Waldgraves: Warnock (Jared Lucier), a stern businessman for whom Willum is designing a hotel for; Clelia (Dana Mastrull), a high-strung children’s special-needs therapist; and Thor (Martha Morton), a rowdy 10-year-old boy characterized as the devil incarnate. Axel Hammond (Scott Mathews), Cubbert and McGinnis’ acerbic drama critic friend, rounds out the tight, seven-member cast.
During the Vietnam War, Willum’s life was saved by Rick, a man he had never met but who dragged him miles to the nearest hospital after the former was shot in both legs. Eternally grateful, Willum extended a stay of welcome to Rick if he ever ventured near Terre Haute. When Rick finally accepts the offer at a dinner party hosted for the Waldgraves, Willum is horrified to see the man’s socially inept conduct and left-of-field behavior. The rest of the play deals with Willum trying to expel Rick from his home without hurting the latter’s feelings.
The two-hour comedy is broken up into three parts, Act One, Act Two Scene One and Act Two Scene Two, with the first act being the longest. Following a 15-minute intermission, Act Two Scene One provides audiences with a brief update on the dire state of affairs and then leads us into the last and best section of the production.
Act Two Scene Two pulls audiences full force into the surreal as Willum, Tansy and Axel try their best to impress on Rick their series of made-up Terre Haute traditions. The traditions veer from the mild – e.g., sand with tea – to increasingly wild, culminating in the climax of the play and the resolution. In the last act of the play, audiences who stay to the end get to see “The Nerd” corroborate its humor with a heart-warming central premise.
With seamless support by the scenic, costume, lighting, sound and stage crew, “The Nerd” comes alive as the characters interact with their surroundings – something as simple as switching on a lamp or playing a message becomes an enchanting experience, and in the instances of the telephone messages, central components to the plot.
Each cast member delivers captivating performances in their respective roles, from Ketter, who plays the increasingly exasperated Willum with perfect timing, to Morton, who embodied a 10-year-old boy better than any other sophomore college student could, adding much-needed texture to the cast’s interactions. While each performance played well separately, at times the passive element of silent actors on stage removed audiences from the entirety of the play’s belief suspension.
“The Nerd” runs through Sunday, Oct. 15.