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Nerd' is the word

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Ten Bucks Theatre presents frantic farce

EDDINGTON There's an old saying that states 'Houseguests, like fish, begin to stink after three days.' But what if the host feels an obligation to that houseguest? Well, then one just plugs one's nose and tries to stick it out.

'The Nerd' features just such a houseguest and just such a host. Ten Bucks Theatre is presenting their production of Larry Shue's farce at Comins Hall in Eddington. The show runs through May 5; all tickets are $10.

 

Willum Cubbert (Bob Potts) is your typical mild-mannered architect living in Terre Haute, Indiana. He's a nice enough guy who is good at his job, but he's dealing with some difficulties in both his professional and personal lives. His girlfriend Tansy (Alexa Steele) is on the verge of leaving town she's going to Washington DC to do be a television weathergirl. Meanwhile, his big hotel project is proving to be difficult. Warnock Waldgrave (Ben Layman), the lead investor, is less than impressed with Willum's attempts to put his own stamp on the project.

It's Willum's birthday, so Tansy decides to throw him a surprise party. Joining her in the surprise is Willum's friend Axel (Randy Hunt), local theater critic and all-around smartass. Warnock (who really prefers to be called 'Ticky') also stops by, with wife Clelia (Katie Toole) and son Thor (Matt Bullard) in tow.

But the real surprise comes when Willum discovers a message on his answering machine. It's from Rick Steadman (Nathan Roach) Rick saved Willum's life in Vietnam, but while there have been letters, the two men have never met. It turns out that Rick has come to town and is looking to spend some time with Willum.

Only Rick isn't such an easy guy to spend time with.

From the very beginning, Rick's inappropriate behavior and social difficulties complicate Willum's life. Through the things he says and does, Rick rapidly starts alienating Willum's friends and doing immense damage to his career. And Rick's ever-cheerful obliviousness shields him from any and all misgivings about what he is doing he simply doesn't see anything wrong with the situation.

In just a matter of days, Willum's entire life is falling apart and it's all thanks to Rick. With the help of his friends, Willum has to find out a way to get Rick to leave before everything that Willum has worked so hard for is completely destroyed.

A fast-paced farce like 'The Nerd' asks a lot of its actors. Maintaining a high level of energy and breakneck pacing while still remaining relatable and engaging is difficult; the ensemble assembled by Ten Bucks proves capable of rising to meet the task at hand. 

Potts is wonderfully flustered as the put-upon Willum; he brings an Everyman vibe to the role that suits it perfectly. Steele is all spunk and sweetness as Tansy. The character could easily devolve into a saccharine simplicity, but Steele gives her an eminently watchable edge. Hunt's Axel is all pithy bon mots and glib sarcasm; his meanness is tempered by an unassailable good nature. He's a jerk, but he's clearly their jerk.

Layman (who also serves as the show's director) is a maelstrom of quick tempered rage the nickname 'Ticky' well serves his time bomb of a persona. Toole is a marvelous picture of a desperate housewife; her smiling veneer is slathered atop a frustration that can only be quelled by destruction. And young Ballard's Thor might well be the most irritating child in the history of Terre Haute. 

But in truth, 'The Nerd' leans heaviest on, wellthe nerd. It's an incredibly demanding role it requires first-rate comic timing and a lack of shame bordering on the pathological. And Roach delivers. His Rick whinges and whines, his nasally Midwestern-accented affectation an ideal soundtrack to the oblivious lack of consideration and basic social understanding. He is annoying at best and infuriating at worst. 

Of course, no ensemble can reach this point without a steady hand steering the ship. Layman is a talented director one with a particular ear for farce so 'The Nerd' is in his wheelhouse. Of course, the fact that he also takes to the stage makes the quality of direction all the more impressive. Layman manages to capture the spirit of the piece (he keeps it period, setting it 1982, which is completely the right choice) while giving his actors the opportunity to imbue the characters with their own energies. At its core, this is a show about the power of relationships, and Layman directs it accordingly.

The design tandem of Mark (scenic/sound) and Sue (lighting) Shane never fails to work wonders with the Comins Hall space. Turning such a relatively small space into something so flexible is an impressive accomplishment. The sheer amount of functionality they manage to pour into what should be a tough space in which to work is astonishing. A sense of place is a key component of this kind of farce the Shanes have managed to elicit a distinct one.

'The Nerd' is a fun, funny show. It's another example of the quality of work that Ten Bucks Theatre Company has been bringing to the area for so many years. With plenty of laughs and even a few surprises this is a show that is well worth the trip.

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