Family-friendly ‘Nerd’ is laugh-out-loud funny

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The Parkside Players of Forest Hills are getting ready to celebrate their 20th anniversary of theater with the hilarious comedy "The Nerd," which opened Feb. 19 at the Grace Lutheran Church.

The play takes place in 1984 in Terre Haute, Ind., at the home of Willum Cubbert, an architect who has been prevailed upon to design a hotel for one of the town's prominent citizens and "pain in the neck," Warnock Waldgrave. We learn that he has tampered so much with the plans that the hotel looks like a warehouse.

Cubbert is trying desperately to please this overbearing character without losing the assignment. Preparations are in hand for a dinner party at Cubbert's home, with the help of his close friends Tansy McGinnes and Axel Hammond. He is a nervous host, on the brink of panic.

The first few minutes of dialogue begin at a slow pace as the audience tries to figure out where the characters fit in, and what their relationships to each other are. While the plot twists, there are hints that something startling is soon to happen.

That is where the nerd, Rick Steadman, makes his grand entrance. He is dressed in a full shaggy gorilla suit with a fierce head and has long fingernails. His entrance is quite frightening until the head is removed and the little man with the high-pitched voice, buck teeth and high-water pants begins to tell his story.

We learn that he won a Purple Star for the rescue of Cubbert in the jungles of Viet- nam, but they have not seen each other since the rescue. Steadman explains the reason he has come to Terre Haute, to look up Cubbert, is because his brother and family moved away, while he was away from their home. There is nowhere else for him to go. He is homeless.

Once this character literally moves in and takes over, life in Terre Haute is never the same. All the schemes he initiates end up in pandemonium. This hapless nebbish causes no end of trouble and yet he does have some endearing qualities that catch the audience by surprise.

The ensemble of seven talented actors manages to keep the audience in hysterics with their comedy shticks and sight gags. The antics on stage must be seen - it's really impossible to describe them all. There are games with socks and shoes thrown out of the window, into the mud, while the participants wear brown bags on their heads and dance around with bare feet, for example. Later in the play, cottage cheese ends up being thrown on Waldgrave's head and raincoat.

Steadman becomes the house guest from hell for the next six days until Cubbert, driven to distraction, finds the gumption to throw him out. Surprisingly, in the midst of the madness, the individuals learn to understand each other and themselves more fully. They are ready to go in different directions!

As Cubbert, Rich Weyhausen is a laugh-out-loud, hilarious, frazzled comedian, driven out of his mind by the play's end. He adds another funny and complex character to his repertoire of 68 roles in the theatre.

Tansy McGinnis, Cubbert's friend and tenant, is ably portrayed by Laurette Sivco. She has appeared in numerous off-Broadway productions and has done extra work for film and television. She shows a wide range of changing emotions, especially in her relationship with Cubbert. She gives her character a persona that fits the dilemma she has about leaving Terre Haute, Cubbert and her job to go to Washington to be a "weather girl" on television.

Kevin Schwab plays Axel. He has appeared in many musicals. His most recent role was in Ionesco's "The Chairs" at Queens College. He is a tall, handsome young man and is effective in his role. He looked somewhat young to play the part of the cynical, jaded and dissipated Axel. Schwab, I predict, will be an asset to future Parkside productions.

The Waldgrave family, Warnock (call me Tiki) Clelia, his wife, who is having a nervous breakdown, and Gretel, their daughter, are ably played by W. Gordon Innes, Mary Lynch and Catherine McIlvane. Innes and Lynch are seasoned veterans of community theatre. They are fine actors and most believable in interpreting their characters' behavior.

McIlvane has the best and loudest screams in her portrayal as a bratty kid. This is her first speaking role at Parkside and she makes the most of it.

Gary Tifeld, "the Nerd," makes his seventh appearance with Parkside Players. His sense of comedy and timing are impeccable. The delivery of his lines in a high-pitched, squeaky voice adds to the crazy comedy. He employs some of the mannerisms of Jerry Lewis but his appearance as a nerdy nebbish never falters.

The ensemble cast works together beautifully, making "The Nerd" a thoroughly enjoyable play.

Jim Azelvandre makes his directing debut with the Parkside Players. He designed and built the set of an elegant home in Indiana, along with his competent crew. He has the good sense to allow his cast to be as zany as possible without letting the mayhem get out of control.

The author of "The Nerd" was Larry Shue, a comedian/p­laywright, who lived in Indiana. Not too much is known about him, except that he died at an early age in an accident. There may have been some aspects of the play that were biographical.

"The Nerd" is recommended for family audiences. You still have a chance to see performances of the play Friday, March 3 and Saturday, March 4.. For further information call 497-4922.

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