March 26, 2014

Review | ‘The Nerd’ ends Atlantic Stage’s sixth season with some laughs

Looking for an evening of smiles and laughter to welcome spring after a long cold winter? Atlantic Stage offers up the perfect solution with “The Nerd,” the final show of its sixth season in Myrtle Beach.

Looking for an evening of smiles and laughter to welcome spring after a long cold winter? Atlantic Stage offers up the perfect solution with “The Nerd,” the final show of its sixth season in Myrtle Beach.

This clever comedy set in the late 1970s was written by award-winner Larry Shue provides plenty of hilarity with its wry observations and jokes that transcend the time and play on human foibles.

In this case, “The Nerd” in question is not a “computer nerd” or a terribly shy person, belittled by those around him. This “Nerd” is an obnoxious guest, completely oblivious to the feelings and interests of others.

The play actually begins from the moment you take your seat. Atlantic Stage performs its shows in a black box setting – no curtain. The well-appointed set is open to the audience. It is on two levels, mimicking the sunken and raised room effects of the ‘70s. Furniture is mid-century modern in ‘70s and ‘80s colors – mustard yellow and orange and brown. The stereo console comes right out of memory.

Music also sets the mood. Songs from the era slowly take you back into time to Nov. 4, 1979, the opening moment of the play set in Willum’s apartment in Terra Haute, Ind.

These very effective visuals were provided by set designer Vincent Masterpaul, props by Marjorie Mitchell and Sandi Shackleford of Mad Hatter, Inc. in Conway and stage manager Patrice Reynolds Pate. Costumes by Christy O’Conner also add to the fun as the play ensues.

The play revolves around the relationship of Willum, a young architect who is also a Vietnam War veteran, with the man who saved his life, Rick Steadman. Willum was unconscious when saved, but has been in postal contact with his rescuer, extending an open invitation to visit.

Rick decides to accept the invitation on the night of Willum’s 34th birthday dinner, Nov. 4. The hilarity begins when the Nerd confuses Rick’s birthday with a late celebration of Halloween.

The series of misunderstandings and the Nerd’s attempt to entertain them all with a game of shoes and socks (involving the wearing of brown bags) keeps the audience in stitches.

Jack Penn, the director’s son, makes his second appearance with Atlantic Stage and delights the audience with his interpretation of the bratty son of Willum’s stuffy autocrat hotel client, Walgrave, well played by Vaughn Cox.

Actress Alysha Cieniewicz shines as Walgrave’s wife, Clelia. Her nervous tics and the need to break plates to relieve anxiety punctuate the comedic sentences of the play with great jocularity.

The harried Willum is aptly performed by Marcus McIntyre, Atlantic Stage company member. Billy Sharpe, Actor’s Equity, is perfectly and hilariously obnoxious as the clueless Rick Steadman. The show also features fine performances by Kristi McIntyre, Actor’s Equity and Atlantic Stage company member as Tansy, Willum’s girlfriend and Jason Adams as Willum’s buddy Axel, a critic.

Willum’s downward spiral as he fights guilt at wanting to expel the Nerd from his life and at the same time figure out what to do aided by his soon-to-be-leaving girlfriend and his tenant and friend Axel are deftly directed by Thom Penn who deserves more than a little applause for the smooth timing in this production.

Timing is critical in any play, but even more so in comedy and Penn brings out the best in all of the actors and their relationship. The two-act play runs about 2.5 hours, but you’ll have to check your watch to verify because the light-hearted comedy moves quickly. Time flies when you are having fun – or watching a well-directed, well-timed comedy. The well-written lines are well executed, the repartee between the characters’ natural and spaced well enough to allow the audience to appreciate the bada-bing factor of the lines, laugh and still hear the next line.

Act Two’s humor involves Willum trying to get Rick to move on, to save his sanity, while not insulting the man who saved his life in Vietnam. Part of that effort is a laugh-inducing dinner party. If you think you have the ending figured out, you might be able to chalk up one good guess – but the play will likely, as it did me, give you one more hilarious surprise before the lights go out.

Lending a hand

As a side note, attending this production also gives you a chance to do some real good for the needy on the Grand Strand. One of the games Rick proposes for the group in Act One is called socks and shoes, and involves wearing brown bags. While the audience does not participate along with the actors, the Atlantic Stage does invite prospective audience members to bring one of their own paper bags to the show – a bag filled with items to donate to North Strand Helping Hand.

This local charity is in need of non-perishable items for their food pantry as well as clothing and household items. A complete list of needed items can be found at: http://northstrandhelpinghand.org/donations-needed/. Anyone who makes a donation will be entered for a chance at a flex pass for next season (flex pass includes four tickets that can be used for any show or shows next season.)

When you attend, be aware that there is no sign for Atlantic Stage on the outside of the building at the corner of 79th Avenue North and U.S. 17. The building is marked as CCU, Coastal Carolina University. Parking is available in front and in the back on the side.

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