Larry Shue’s The Foreigner is one of my favorite plays – not only a wonderful comedy, but with deeper themes running throughout, it has something for everyone. I’d heard of his play The Nerd, but knew nothing about it – and now, having seen it, am so pleased I went in with no prior knowledge and was able to be surprised not only by the show, but also by this joyful production.
It’s late 1981, and Willum Cubbert (Andrew Colford), a successful architect, has just gotten a call out of the blue: Rick Steadman (Brett Epstein), the man who saved his life in Vietnam but whom he’s never actually met, is coming for a visit. Willum’s friends Axel (Adam Giannone) and Tansy (Cara Moretto) are at his apartment helping him celebrate his birthday, and everyone’s excited to meet Willum’s savior – until he arrives and he’s bumbling, clueless and rude, starts ruining almost every aspect of Willum’s life and sets himself up as a permanent houseguest. Willum is torn between owing Rick his life and needing the man gone, to preserve his job, home and sanity – but how to get rid of him when he has no intention of leaving?
Shue’s play starts slowly – through no fault of anyone involved here, there’s just quite a bit of exposition to get out of the way – but once Rick arrives, it’s nonstop laughter through the end of the show. It’s got a very Foreigner feel to it, with one character being the fish out of water providing most of the laughs; it’s not as deep as Shue’s other famous work, but it’s solid and very, very funny.
Director Phil Rice does excellent work here; there’s a lot of physicality involved in a compressed space, and other than a couple of bumped dishes (which totally worked within the structure of the show) his staging is perfect. His choice of cast is inspired, as well; this group works and plays beautifully together. Epstein, of course, is the standout here – if he wasn’t, the play would falter – and what a show he puts on for us. His Rick is completely cringeworthy in the absolute best way. Colford has a tough job – playing it serious against Epstein can’t be easy – but carries it off well, and his interactions with Moretto are touching. Moretto and Giannone are a treat; Gianonne has some of the best snarky one-liners of the night and delivers them with just the right touch. Steve King, as Warnock Waldgrave, Willum’s beleaguered boss, got some of the biggest laughs of the night while wearing a paper bag on his head; both Jean Garner, as Clelia, his wife, and Mason Hutchinson, as Thor, his son, are delightful.
What fun it is to be in a theater full of people who are all enjoying the production as much as you are; the laughter was uproarious, the smiles at intermission and after the show were contagious, and the mood was uplifting. Congratulations to all involved for creating such a pitch-perfect production.
“The Nerd,” The Theater Barn, 654 State Route 20, New Lebanon, through July 1, $29-$27, Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission, https://www.thetheaterbarn.org/