Nov 11, 2008 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Ever since he was 8 years old when he made his stage debut in 1990’s “Kids Make Music,” Josh Taylor has entertained Baldwinsville Theatre Guild audiences.
The multi-talented actor does it again in the title role of “The Nerd” playing through Nov. 22, at the Presbyterian Education Center, 64 Oswego St.
The nerd in Larry Shue’s oft-produced comedy is Rick Steadman, a chalk-factory worker from Wisconsin who, during the Vietnam War, saved the life of Willum Cubbert, now a blossoming architect in Terre Haute. Although Cubbert (capably played by Matt Nilsen) owes his life to Steadman, the two had never actually met because Cubbert was unconscious when Steadman dragged him to safety in the jungle. Comedy, of course, is often constructed upon such unlikely happenstances.
Playwright Larry Shue’s strengths, however, were not in plot but in character, and Taylor’s Rick Steadman is one of the most unforgettable characters you’ll ever see on stage.
Decked out in regulation geek garb — horn-rimmed glasses, white shirt and black skinny tie followed by crooked black bow tie — Taylor’s lanky frame completes the scarecrow persona. But it’s when Taylor’s character opens his mouth that the humor spurts forth like a broken fire hydrant.
He snorts. He spits. He sings way off-key.
Steadman’s whining grates on you like fingernails scraping across a blackboard. Despite a voice that sounds like gears grinding, Steadman insists on doing impressions. Jimmy Stewart and Jimmy Cagney never sounded so bad!
How annoying is this nerd? He wears a monster costume to a birthday party. He talks with his mouth full. He spits deviled eggs and pours cottage cheese all over Cubbert’s guests.
He plays tambourine, off-rhythm. He plays a parlor game that requires everyone but him to wear bags over their heads.
Did I tell you he snorts? Yes, loudly, every time he laughs, which is often.
And worse yet, he refuses to take the hint that he has overstayed his welcome. And therein lies the razor-thin gist of conflict in Shue’s already slender story.
Act 1 introduces the characters including Cubbert, his sarcastic drama critic buddy, Axel, played to perfection by David Hughes, and Cubbert’s girlfriend, Tansy, played by the ever-lovely Blair Dawson who delivers a couple zingers about “Hamlet” and “Waiting for Godot.” Then there’s Cubbert’s boss, Waldgrave, and his family played by Jay Burris, Heather Pearsall and child actor Shane Humphrey. Each of the Waldgrave actors steal a scene or two, which is no easy feat after Steadman appears and starts his screwball observations.
Act 2 pits Axel and Tansy plotting with Cubbert to get rid of Steadman once and for all. It’s not easy. This house-guest from hell can’t take a hint. While Taylor’s impressive performance held the interest of the nearly sold-out opening night audience, Act 2 undeniably drags. It’s a lot like watching an apple core turn brown.
But don’t blame rookie director Korrie Strodel. All that unfunny filler is Shue’s fault. Strodel and her game cast did their darnedest to maintain a brisk pace even amid the playwright’s desperate floundering.
In spite of the plot’s shortcomings, this comedy is more about madcap than motivation. And madcap could be Josh Taylor’s middle name.
“The Nerd” runs at 8 p.m. Nov. 14 and 15, 3 p.m. Nov. 16; and 8 p.m. Nov. 21 and 22. Tickets cost $15 for adults, and $12 for students. Seniors may pay $12 at the 3 p.m. Sunday Nov. 16 matinee only. For reservations, call 278-1021.