Review: 'The Nerd' Is Just Fitfully Amusing

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 5, 2021

Johnny Bender in "The Nerd"
Johnny Bender in "The Nerd"  (Source:Jeanne Smith)

Attleboro Community Theatre has launched its new season with the long-delayed production of "The Nerd." Although the cast tries their best with playwright Larry Shue's comedy, the results are only fitfully amusing.

William Cubbert (Thomas Quilltzsch), an Indiana-based architect, is dating Tansy (Kelly Barry), who lands her dream job in Washington, D.C.

William's best friend is Axel (Michael Capalbo), a theater critic and a heavy drinker.

They are gathered for William's 34th birthday party. Their guests include the Waldgraves: Warnock (Paul Oliver), a stuffy businessman with plans for a hotel; his very shy wife, Clelia (Linda Hernandez); and their bratty son, Thor (Jonah Quilltzsch).

William is soon visited by Rick Stedman, the nerd, who allegedly saved his life during the Vietnam War.

Stedman shows up to the party in costume and wears a lampshade over his head. We learn he works in a chalk factory as an inspector and lives with his brother. He's a complete slob who eats a bowl of spaghetti with his fingers and belches a lot. In an attempt to bring life to the party, Rick has everyone give up their shoes and put paper bags on their heads for fun.

Thor gets terrified of the weirdness around him and hides in closets. Warnock berates his son and fumes about his expensive shoes being ruined.

Axel makes wisecracks, but his character is never developed.

Tansy comes off as sort of a wet blanket, which leads one to ask what William sees in her.

We find out William is being driven mad after Stedman moves into his house. This should have resulted in some over-the-top reactions, but Shue's weak writing lets the characters down.

What saves the play from being a total misfire is Johnny Bender as Stedman, who irritates everyone he encounters. Speaking in a Southern drawl and sporting a slight paunch, Bender makes his nerdy character endearing and enlivens every scene he's in.

The problem is, Bender is so sweet and lovable that whenever he isn't on stage, the story drags. Shue throws in lots of sight gags that don't work. For example, Clelia asks Tansy if she can have a piece of china to break. It's a throwaway moment that doesn't enhance the plot or tell us anything about the character, who vanishes after the first act.

There is a twist at the end that was meant to be a surprise, but it seemed like more of a cheat than anything else.

"The Nerd" would've been more entertaining if Rick had been set up as the hero of the story. Making him into an object of ridicule was a major miscalculation.

Under the solid direction of Shawn Perry and Jeanne Smith, it works as a showcase for Johnny Bender, a dynamic performer who deserves better material.


"The Nerd" runs through October 17 at Attleboro Community Theatre, 71 North Main St., Attleboro. For tickets, visit http://attleborocommunitytheatre.com or call 508-226-8100.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.