Review: Theatre Conspiracy drives audiences wild with hilarious 'The Nerd'

Todd Fleck (Willum) and Jordan Wilson (Rick Steadman) in Theatre Conspiracy's 'The Nerd.'

Photo courtesy Theatre Conspiracy

Todd Fleck (Willum) and Jordan Wilson (Rick Steadman) in Theatre Conspiracy's "The Nerd."

What: A total stranger walks into an architect's life. Chaos erupts.

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15; one 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 9

Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers

Cost: $20

Information: 239-936-3239 or theatreconspiracy.org

Something Else: Show contains profanity

On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog

Sweep out the throne room, polish the crown. There's a new king of comedy, right here in town. Jordan Wilson delivers an electric performance in Theatre Conspiracy's outrageous, over-the-top "The Nerd." Backed by a sure ensemble and a sharp script, this show lands on the December "must-see" list.

"The Nerd," from Larry Shue, offers the tale of prosaic architect Willum Cubbert, into whose boring life lands the man who saved his life in Vietnam. Willum never met Rick Steadman; 48 hours off the plane, Willum was shot in a rice field and woke up in Japan. Willum only knows that Rick lives in Wisconsin and works at a factory. Well, Rick … Rick … Rick ain't quite right, if you know what I mean.

Director Karen Goldberg teases this ecstatic confection into hilarious, laugh-a-minute shape. She goes beyond the script and encourages her amateur ensemble to push the scenes as far toward the border of ridiculous as they can dream - and then take two more steps.

Consider the night's most outrageous sequence, a game of "Shoes and Socks." Wilson's Rick Steadman, speaking in a high-pitched nasal whine, orders the birthday party guests to remove their shoes and socks. Incredulous stares commence. But wait. The next part of this game includes poking holes in a paper bag and wearing it over your head. So, five adults on the stage have bags on their heads, barefoot, screaming obscenities and wandering around unable to see. Then Rick asks for a Bible…

The shoes wind up out the window and in the lake. A party guest named Medusa faints. The deviled eggs (Tansy's specialty) fail when Rick reminds folks "Just a little while ago, these were all inside some birds." Clelia steals the saucers. Axel drinks like a fish. Boy, this party has it going on.

Wilson, a longtime Theatre Conspiracy actor, makes the show. He slips completely into the obnoxious, obstreperous character; Rick Steadman never met an annoyance he didn't like! He and Goldberg managed to make the portrayal seem something close to natural too. The hideous Rick never resembles a caricature (even if he is) of every bad party guest everywhere, every friend you dread seeing, every neighbor you know who isn't evil - but you wish would move to the other side of the country.

The voice, a screech that starts clear up in the sinus cavities behind the eyes and emerges like what you imagine an asthmatic, two-pack-a-day, nicotine-soaked mallard might make after a three-day bender, might be the best thing about the show. From the first second Wilson bursts through the door, the sound alone jolts the play into twelfth gear. Every time Wilson screws up his eyes, wrinkles his nose and clangs out another pronouncement, "Weeelllll, I don't know," you can feel the audience just waiting to let loose with another shriek of laughter.

Of course, "The Nerd" remains an ensemble piece; Goldberg selected well. Christopher Brent makes a fair bid to steal the show with an effortless portrayal as saucy, snarky drama critic Axel Hammond, he of quick wit and perpetual rolling eyeball. Brent gets many of the show's best one liners but also perches himself at a bar near the rear of the stage and silently "comments" on the action with marvelous facial expressions that range from sneers to wide-eyed horror. His might be one of the best, most-understated supporting performances all year.

Rachael Endrizzi delights as put-upon Tansy, the Girl Friday, hostess and object of Willum's affections. She and Brent keep the slow-moving opening segment afloat with their quick chemistry; their conspiratorial glances and wicked schemes eventually help solve "the Rick problem." Endrizzi makes everything look so easy, whether it involves running around with bowls of cottage cheese and water, plates of Cornish hens or slinging saucers at the walls. Audiences will love her cute blue frock and big 1980s hair.

Other bright spots include Jim Yarnes and Helena Finnegan as upscale (and eventually shamed) society couple. I do wish Goldberg and Todd Fleck had done more with the Willum character. The idea of making him basic and boring is interesting - especially as a contrast to the overactive Wilson. The portrayal emerges dull and lifeless on stage though, especially after Fleck adapts a flat, featureless monotone and a blank manner that communicates none of the character's frustrations.

The Terre Haute treehouse set, designed by Bill Taylor and Curtis Jones, seems something out of "Swiss Family Robinson" with a side of "Architectural Digest." Multiple levels contain bar, couch, stereo, chairs, cushions and coffee table. Woodgrain patterns lead the eye toward the illusion of a spacious creation (even if the super-skinny Brent & Endrizzi can barely fit behind the bar). Circular bookcases piled with tomes, games and knick-knacks hide dozens of hidden treasures.

Actors sourced their own costumes. Look for Brent's crimson pants and lively red and orange patterned shirt. You'll swear he stepped right out of "Boogie Nights" as he drops a record on the turntable. Wilson's white shirt, black glasses and slicked-back hair outfit strikes the perfect note too.

Goldberg's backstage crew, Angie Koch and Joshua Incardona, deserve a nod here as well. The show comes with a catalog of props that runs four pages. The laundry list of items includes multiple courses of real food (garbanzo beans, deviled eggs, macaroni salad), plus various and sundry items like 20,000 business cards, a framed photo of Hugh Downs and a full coffee service with cream, sugar and sand. Koch and Incardona keep the cast supplied and the trays flowing with ease.

"The Nerd" delivers laughs faster than Domino's can deliver pizza. Jordan Wilson anchors a solid ensemble that clearly loves what they're doing on stage. Look for Christopher Brent and Rachael Endrizzi in a pair of fun, snappy supporting roles and marvel at the fabulous set. Most of all, enjoy the brilliant comedic fun of "The Nerd."

"I'm barefoot and half blind with my head in a bag!" Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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