Friday, February 12, 2016

Subtlety be damned

Absurd Nerd at the Walton
by Christopher Key

Playwright Larry Shue supposedly died in a plane crash in 1985.  If he was a character in one of his own farces, he’d wait a few days, then spring out of a closet wearing Groucho glasses and a silly hat, screaming “Just kidding!”

Suffice it to say that subtlety is not one of his strong points.  If a joke doesn’t work, have the actor say it again, much louder.  Yeah, I know, it’s farce.  I guess Shue is an acquired taste that I never acquired.   That’s OK.  Most people are revolted by my fondness for Laphroaig.

I thought I’d better get that disclaimer out of the way so that you wouldn’t think I hated The Nerd, playing through the end of the month at Mount Baker Theatre’s Walton venue.  I didn’t hate it.  It’s just not my brand of single-malt.

There is no doubt that The Nerd is funny and there was no doubt that the opening night audience loved it.  Director Corey D. McDaniel obviously loves Shue’s work and knows how to handle it: balls to the wall, no holds barred and over the top is not far enough.

The cast gives it their all and then some.  The energy they pour into this production would wean the world off fossil fuels if it could be tapped.  Frankly, I was exhausted just watching them.

Photo credit - Damian Vines


Seattle actor Daniel Wood is awe-inspiring in the title role as the house guest from Hell.  His characterization reminded me of some of Dick Martin’s more inspired moments from Laugh-In and that’s a very high compliment, if somewhat dated.  Hell, I’m somewhat dated, to state the obvious.

Andr√© Nelson is another Seattle actor who plays Vietnam vet Willum Cubbert.  His life was saved by Rick Steadman and he is eternally grateful.  Until Steadman (The Nerd) moves in.  Any PTSD he might have acquired in Nam is nothing compared to what his new roomie can do.  Nelson’s gradual descent into madness is a joy to behold.

His girlfriend, Tansy, is about to realize her dream of becoming a weather girl in the nation’s capital, leaving him in Terre Haute.  Rep veteran Jennifer A. Ewing not only looks like a warm front, but is the only character in the play to maintain any shred of dignity.

Christopher C. Cariker is a local fave, having played the Rep before.  He plays Warnock Waldegrave, a real estate tycoon who is a sort of Donald Trump, only meaner.  I’d compare his slow burn to that of Edgar Kennedy, but I’ve already revealed far too much about my vintage.

His wife, Clelia, is played by Seattle actor Megan Ahlers.  In her Rep debut, she completely captures the teacher of what are now called special-needs students.  Her guiding principle: speak slowly and loudly enough and they will understand.

These two have a child, Thor, who, as one character puts it, “…is a convincing argument for Planned Parenthood.”  Zane Barrett is yet another example of why Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth is such a treasure.  His role consists mostly of screaming, but he does it magnificently.

Tying the whole ridiculous plot together is Cubbert’s friend Axel Hammond, a theatre critic.  I saved him for last because he’s what I might have become if I were gay and stuck in Terre Haute.  Dan Ruiz Salvatura is catty and campy and runs away with the show amidst very stiff competition.

As is expected at any Rep show, the techies are superb and should all be listed here, but I’m worn out after watching this riotous romp. They’re listed in the program.  Please appreciate them.

The Nerd runs through February 28 at the Harold and Irene Walton Theatre, one of the best performance spaces in Bellingham.  Opening night was close to a full house, so order your tickets now by calling the Mount Baker Theatre box office at (360) 734-6080 or online at http://www.mountbakertheatre.com/shows/.

The ending is worthy of O. Henry and there I go again…


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