7 - 17, 2000
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8:00PM Sundays at 2:30PM Also, Sunday, Sept. 10 at 7:30PM Saturday, Sept. 16 at 2:30PM
Goofiness takes center stage! Willum Gilbert has it all - a promising career
as an architect, devoted friends, even, maybe, a serious girlfriend.
then Rick Steadman, the ultimate social misfit, comes to visit and puts
everything in peril. The Nerd escalates into madcap farce as Willum tries
out-nerd his sanity-destroying houseguest.
| Director's Note
A play's environment can be a powerful element to be reckoned with by directors, actors, and audience members. After all, if you want to understand a person (even a fictional character), you have to understand where they have come from and where they live.
So, why did Larry Shue set The Nerd in Terre Haute, Indiana?
Terre Haute is one of those cities in Indiana that, like Muncie (where I lived briefly) and Gary, has developed an inferiority complex. Many authors have taken pot shots at this unpretentious city of 57,000 which sits so comfortably on the banks of the Wabash River. At the conclusion of the Steve Martin movie Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, for instance, the hero and heroine discover that the Nazis have regrouped after the war and developed a weapon that will destroy America. The nefarious plan is stopped just as the Nazis are firing up the weapon, thus saving all of America except, of course, poor Terre Haute. The unfazed Martin mourns the city's fictional loss with just one line: "Damn, and they were just about to get a new library!"
There are a number of absurdities and inconsistencies in The Nerd that point out Terre Haute's perceived inadequacy. Axel is supposedly a theatre critic. Anyone who has been to Terre Haute would know that such a character could never live in Terre Haute in real life. Terre Haute has only one small amateur theatre-slim pickings for a theatre critic unless the paper also had him cover such events as the city's annual buffalo chip throwing contest (which you can review yourself on September 16 this year at the Native American Museum in Terre Haute). Actually, Terre Haute's oldest historic landmark is a theatre-the Hippodrome-however it is now known as the Scottish Rite Lodge.
In the second act, Axel and Kemp claim that they are going to the dedication of Terre Haute's new art center that is built "entirely out of creosote"-an obvious reference to Terre Haute's reputation for its coal production and industry rather than its art. Indeed, a brief search of artistic and cultural happenings in Terre Haute from now to the end of the year turned up such events as the "Dugger Coal Festival and Fun Days", the "Diesel Extravaganza 2000", and the "Bleemel
Days" at the Bleemel Flour and Feed building-all events to which our Axel would turn up his nose.
So, enjoy The Nerd knowing that it is not only the product of a rich comic imagination, but of a city that has-hopefully, considering the scorn heaped upon it in the name of a good laugh-developed a sense of humor about itself.
About the Play
The Nerd is Larry Shue's first full-length play, and it had its initial performance in April of 1981. The Milwaukee Rep Company produced it while Larry was a member of that theater's acting core and also its playwright in residence. The author was cast in the role of Willum Cubbert. The play has subsequently been produced in a wide array of venues and countries. In 1982, it crossed the Atlantic for a production in Manchester, England. Rowan Atkinson played the title character in London in 1984. A New York production in 1987 featured Mark Hammil of Star Wars fame and was directed by Charles Nelson Reilly. Variety noted that "the audience almost never stops laughing" at this most unusual of situation comedies.
The Nerd has become a mainstay of community and regional theaters. In its
better moments, it is classic Midwestern farce-a genre that it could almost claim to have generated itself. Remember, it pre-dates Fargo by more than twenty years!
The Shue I Knew
by Craig Mahlstedt
Where to begin? You know how there are just some people in your life who are unforgettable? I mean, if you are lucky, there are. I've been lucky. I met Larry Shue early In my college career and remained his friend for almost 20 years. Larry even honored our friendship by asking me to be the best man at his wedding. I have many memories of Larry, a number of which color my
affection for the play you are seeing tonight. After you view The Nerd, I think you will have some understanding of why Larry is so memorable.
We "early Boomers" grew up in a wildly changing culture. We started out with Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, and we finished our college years with Archie Bunker and Easy Rider. There Larry and I sat in good ol' Bloomington, Illinois watching, literally (on network news) our country turn upside down. A little foreign adventure called Vietnam made all us "college guys" a lot more attentive to going to class. We sure didn't want to loose that 2S draft classification! The war created a chaos for us. And it made most of us more cynical too. That helped to cover the fear. Larry turned our sense of chaos into comedy. And he gives us a taste of that cynical humor in the character of Axel. But that wasn't Larry. Larry was much more the Willum type. He was loaded with talent and kindness, and sort of looking for a push, or as Tansy would say "a little gumption!" The Nerd addresses the issue of talented people becoming too comfortable. It also talks to me about friendship, of "being cruel to be kind" as the Bard would say. Look, I'm not saying this is a masterwork-neither would Larry. It's mostly just really funny! At moments, in my opinion, it's almost overstuffed with schtick. But most of the time it really makes us laugh-not
mean laughter, but laughter at ourselves. What we will put up with in specific situations out of certain feelings of obligation is both amazing and hilarious, especially when written by a crafty observer like Larry Shue.
Well, I've most likely taken up enough of your time....The washroom should be free by now, or they are dimming the lights for Act II. I thank you for letting me share just a glimpse of my very memorable friend. I have one last memory to share.
At the memorial service for Larry, I was telling his mother Deloris (Snookie to friends and family) how sad it all was. She said, "Yes, but I'm always going to have my son's words with me-his wonderful words". How very right she was. Mothers always are. I can never enter a theater without thinking of Larry Shue. I curse the day I received word of his death in 1985, but I thank God that Larry lived-and that I knew him.
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