by Matthew Falduto
Iowa City - I had no plan to see ICCT's production of The Nerd this weekend. Another reviewer was scheduled to check it out. But as sometimes happens, sickness struck and with twenty minutes until curtain I jumped in my truck and raced over slick roads to the other side of town. I made it with minutes to spare. As the first strains of Why Do Fools Fall in Love? began to play, providing a hint to the true motivation behind everything that would soon unfold, I studied the elaborate set. Michal Blake's set is masterful. It may be one of the finest sets I've seen at a community theatre production in the Iowa City area. The wonderful lattice windows offer a view of the outside and the clever use of depth provides the feeling that this house truly sits high up on a hill, which is crucial to later events in the play. As I absorbed all of this, I realized the song was still playing and there was nothing was happening on stage. It's a lovely song, but we got the point after the first verse. I wanted the action to start.
The story revolves around architect Willum Cuthbert (Brad Quinn) whose life was saved many years before by Rick Steadman (Eddie Skaggs). However, Willum and Rick never actually met as Willum was unconscious during the rescue. Willum feels obligated to Rick for saving his life. When Rick shows up out of the blue, Willum does everything he can to accommodate him despite the fact that his annoying nerd-like personality is soon aggravating Willum's friend, Axel (Kenneth Van Egdon), and love interest, Tansy (Elizabeth Breed), not to mention threatening Willum's most recent job.
The title character of The Nerd is played to annoying perfection by Eddie Skaggs. From voice to mannerisms, Skaggs creates the most frustratingly obtuse character I have ever seen on stage. Quinn does a fine job in a somewhat thankless role as Willum. This is the sort of play where the secondary characters are given the truly fun stuff to do and the funniest lines. Nevertheless, Quinn does a good job of showing Willum's descent into frustration culminating in his cathartic blow up at Rick. Also notable was Joseph Verry as Thor Waldgrave, the young son of Willum's boss, Warnock (Stephen Polchert). Most of what Verry was asked to do was react to the craziness around him by screaming and running from one to room to another. He performed all of that admirably, but even more impressive was his covering for a technical sound glitch. Verry deserves kudos for handling the unexpected so well.
One word of warning - there is smoking at one point onstage and I suppose it's because I am so unused to smelling smoke anywhere indoors these days (do theaters have some sort of special exception to the law?), but I found that very off putting. I would have appreciated a warning sign in the lobby. And the amount of humor that came from this moment really didn't justify smelling smoke for a while afterward.
The only other criticism I have is the uneven pacing in Act One. At times, the pacing was too quick and we missed several of Axel's clever quips. But at other times, the pacing dragged and we were really hoping things would get moving. Fortunately, the second act pacing was right on the mark and the biggest laughs were definitely reserved for the second half of the play.
Van Egdon is an expert at coaxing the most wit out of every humorous line. Breed completely committed to the craziness with a courage that was wonderful to behold, particularly to this reviewer who remembers her portrayal of the Goblin King in The Hobbit in middle school. Robyn McCright, who played Clelia Waldgrave, wife of Warnock, stole the show in the moments she was allowed to shine. The hilarious effect breaking plates had on her made all of us in the audience think a la When Harry Met Sally, "I'll break what she's breaking." Polchert also handled his role as the straight man for much of the humor very well.
ICCT's production of The Nerd is definitely a fun evening, filled with laughs and frivolity. I encourage you to check it out. Three performances remaining: March 11, 12 and 13.