Playwright Larry Shue’s farcical comedy, The Nerd, as well as his other most notable work, The Foreigner, are favorites of region theatre across the globe. Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre has mounted both of Shue’s shows on more than one occasion, so it stands to reason that they’d revisit The Nerd once again—onstage at Chaffin’s from March 23-April 23.
The first time I remember seeing The Nerd on stage was actually at Chaffin’s back in the late 90s. This time around the show’s directed by Bradley Moore, who, following the recent change of ownership at the storied Barn Dinner Theatre, was named Assistant Artistic Director at Chaffin’s. Moore is doing quadruple duty for The Nerd, as he also designed the set and has provided sound design.
When first performed, The Nerd was set in the late 70s with references to the Vietnam War. Moore and company have updated the timeline to modern-day Terre Haute, Indiana where we find young architect Willum Cubbert about to unexpectedly reunite with timid ne’er do-well Rick Steadman, who saved Willum’s life years prior when the two were in the military.
For the title role, Moore has cast Brett Cantrell, who was last seen onstage at The Barn as uber-neatnik Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. Taking awkwardness to a whole new level, Cantrell’s Nerd is a fidgety, nebbish dork who’d make even Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon seem quite socially adept. He’s the kind of friend you just love and love to introduce to your more uptight buddies just to see what kind of rise you can get out of them. Perfectly channeling Jerry Lewis—Goggle him kids—I couldn’t help but think had the TPAC-backed musical version of The Nutty Professor Musical from a few years back actually have taken off, Cantrell would be a natural to head that show as well.
Joel Diggs is cast a Willum, who is kind and unassuming and a bit of a push-over. His frustration with the unwelcome houseguest provides a few laughs here and there and his on-stage romance with Tansy (the always charming Corinne Bupp) plays sweet, but by no fault of the actors, the script seems dated and the laughs cheap, in spite of a few modernized references.
John Mauldin, who also appeared in Chaffin’s The Odd Couple, is cast as Willum’s latest client, Warnock Waldgrave, a demanding businessman who’s hired Willum to design his new building. After seeing his as the no-nonsense Officer Murray in Odd Couple, it’s fun to see Mauldin play the slightly dim-witted Mr. Waldgrave.
Martha Wilkinson, who’s returning to Chaffin’s stage after having spent much of the past few months behind the scenes as the Barn’s new Artist Director, plays opposite Mauldin as his wife, Clelia, an on-edge wife and mother who’s only source of stress-reduction comes in breaking “something small”. Wilkinson is one of those actors who magically finds the funny, even when it’s hidden in a decades-old script. With a single look or movement…or by grabbing a small china plate and rushing offstage to break it, she garners some of the show’s biggest laughs.
The same can be said for Antonio P. Nappo, cast as Willum’s best friend and Tansy’s roommate, theatre critic Axel Hammond. Perhaps because of his job, his penchant for frequent cocktails, or likely because of his brilliant comedic timing…I found myself leaning in so as not to miss a single under-his-breath reaction…Nappo’s Axel quickly became my personal favorite character. Nappo is just funny. Period.
Making his stage debut, Aiden Mauldin plays Thor Waldgrave, Clelia and Warnock’s bratty son, and he does so perfectly, to riotous laughter from the audience. As may be surmised by his last name, he just so happens to be John Mauldin’s son on and off stage. Keeping pace with his adult co-stars, it’s apparent that the theatre bug has bitten Aiden and it’s obvious he comes by his talent honestly.
As a whole, The Nerd has its bright moments. Implausible?…yes. Typical for Chaffin’s first 50 years?…definitely, but does it hold up as Chaffin’s begins their Next 50 years? When in the capable hands of director, Moore and his talented cast…yes.
The Nerd continues at Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre with shows through Sunday, April 23. Dinner and Show tickets (including dinner, show, coffee/tea/soft drink options) are $50 for Adults and $30 for Students and Children. Show Only tickets are $30 and include your choice of beverages. Saturday dinner buffet is sever from 6-7:30 p.m. with the performances starting at 8 p.m.; Sunday buffet from noon until 1:30 p.m. with show starting at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 615.646.9977. Up next at Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre is Beau Jest running April 27-May 27. Click Here to visit Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre’s all-new website at www.chaffinsbarntheatre.com, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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