Season 2016 of Lamb’s Players Theatre starts with a revival of a popular farcical hit. Producing Artistic Director, Robert Smyth, previously staged Larry Shue’s comedy, The Nerd, which received raves from critics and
Not only is Smyth directing, but he cast Lamb’s favorite, David Cochran Heath, to once again play the geeky Rick Steadman. In addition, he chose several well-respected LPT performers to act opposite Heath who recently returned following an extended break from acting.
Slightly updated from 1979 to 1996, the protagonist is not actually Rick, but a kind architect and landlord, Willum Cubbert (Mike Buckley). The designer decides to spend his birthday hosting a house party in Terre Haute, Indiana, with his friends/tenants Tansy McGinnis (Cynthia Gerber) and Axel Hammon (Brian Mackey).
What should be a relaxing occasion in Willum’s visually inviting house (Buckley also designed the set) turns disastrous when an ex-GI who saved his life in Vietnam decides to unexpectedly stop by. That man is the beyond antisocial Rick, and his peculiar behavior starts to drive everyone around him insane.
The premise has the ingredients of a hilarious evening in Coronado, and The Nerd luckily provides one. Shue’s characters all have their quirks, which lead to numerous comedic moments.
Buckley and Gerber make the close friends appear as gentle souls who are far from meek. Although they seem perfect for each other, many obstacles seem to stand in their way from being together. Whenever a situation seems to be keeping them apart, the reactions from the stars draw a fine line between funny and dramatic.
Axel is the polar opposite of Willum and Tansy. He is more of a wisecracking pessimistic cynic who just happens to be a theatre critic. In ways, Axel is more fun than he has any right to be because of Mackey’s rapid-fire delivery and mischievous presence. He also allows Axel to be likable since it doesn’t take long to know that the “curmudgeon” clearly cares about his buddies.
Before Rick is formerly introduced, a good amount of humor is created from Willum’s relationships with his pals as well as his stuffy wealthy client, Warnock Waldgrave (John Rosen).
In addition, Susan Clausen and Scotty Atienza add to the nutty shenanigans as Warnock’s wife, Clelia Waldgrave, and son, Thor. Along with Rosen, they portray a family that is extremely dysfunctional and are long overdue to see a therapist.
Once Rick shows up, the night gets expectedly loopier. Wearing dorky clothes from costume designer, Anna Marie Phillips, and talking with a voice similar to Goofy, Heath manages to brighten any scene that he is in.
When Rick unintentionally causes trouble, he never turns into an unlikeable doofus. This is partially because Heath gives Rick a naïve childlike innocence which makes him blissfully unaware about how much of a nuisance he can be to others.
Smyth seems to be very comfortable revisiting the material. He is a natural with timing from physical gags to witty monologues. The way he incorporates Patrick J. Duffy’s audio and Nathan Peirson’s lighting result in clever punchlines to different situations.
Although none of the laughs will be spoiled, Shue manages to sneak in surprises big and small. The twists force audiences to pay attention to every situation instead of checking their brain at the door.
Shue’s tale also becomes deeper bringing up subjects such as goodwill and making tough decisions in life. These topics are brought up without ever getting in the way of the consistent hilarity.
Smyth, Heath and the rest of the cast turn Shue’s script into an irresistible comical play. May there continue to be more acting opportunities for the beloved Heath in the future.