A Pleasant Return To “The Nerd” At Dramatic License

Taylor Pietz, Jason Contini, B. Weller confront Mike Wells in "The Nerd" at Dramatic License. Photo: John Lamb

Taylor Pietz, Jason Contini and B. Weller confront Mike Wells in “The Nerd” at Dramatic License. Photo: John Lamb

The late Larry Shue had two plays that have become classics in their own right. We saw a production of “The Foreigner” at the Rep last year and now Dramatic License Productions has brought back “The Nerd.” More of a throwback to zanier comedies like “Boeing, Boeing” which DLP did last year, “The Nerd” features a struggling architect and his girlfriend, a dapper drama critic friend, a client who comes to their house for dinner along with his wife and precocious young son and then an old Army buddy who reappears years after saving our architect’s life in the the war. The problem with the old Army buddy is that he’s more obnoxious than the bad seed of a son and latches onto the family like a leech. In other words, he’s the title character.

Director John Contini has brought this somewhat dated little comedy to life with the help of a talented cast and the surprise ending which I had forgotten about as the evening went on. I kept wondering about how to wrap this story up saving our young couple and dealing with the odious client and his insufferable family. When the resolution appears to be more simple than we, as audience members, are willing to accept, the kicker comes in and we get a hint of what made “The Nerd” more palatable the first time most of us saw it.

John Reidy and Nicole Angeli try to comprehend Mike Wells as Jason Contini tries to adapt to his old Army buddy in the Dramatic License production of "The Nerd." Photo: John Lamb

John Reidy and Nicole Angeli try to comprehend Mike Wells as Jason Contini tries to adapt to his old Army buddy in the Dramatic License production of “The Nerd.” Photo: John Lamb

Jason Contini shines as the guilt-ridden architect, Willum, who must suffer through the machinations of his life-saving buddy who has turned into a boor but with less personality. He hasn’t seen him in so many years and yet his stories about his life seem to ring true and, after all, how do you kick out a person who really did save your life all those many years ago? Contini shows frustration and compassion in equal measures as his girlfriend and drama critic friend continue to come up with schemes to get this unwelcome house guest on the next plane back home. The lovely Taylor Pietz brings us her best Laura Petrie as she stands by her man as Tansy. She has really developed some acting chops since being the darling of a lot of New Line musicals. Both with the tender young Emily in Insight’s “Our Town” last summer and now with the almost slapstick comedy of “The Nerd,” she is the up and coming actress to watch on local stages.

B. Weller delights with his droll sense of humor and witty, often off-hand, remarks throughout the play. He brings a much more debonaire flair to the drama critic than most of the motley crew I hang out with at local productions (yes, I’m including myself in said company). It’s more like the critics in movies from the thirties and forties. He even gets a tux on for his latest trip to the theatre. A bravura performance. John Reidy and Nicole Angeli are perfectly pompous as the client and his wife. They get flustered at the antics of Rick, the Army buddy turned nightmare, as they play after dinner games including a weird, “make it up as I go along” type game proposed by Rick. As their young son, Thor, Hayden Benbenek is perfectly spank-worthy as he becomes a whirling dervish upon his entrance and then becomes even more pretentious every time he emerges from the bedroom he has locked himself in.

Jason Contini snuggle with Taylor Pietz while B. Weller does what any drama critic does- emotes- in "The Nerd" at Dramatic License. Photo: John Lamb

Jason Contini snuggles with Taylor Pietz while B. Weller does what any drama critic does- emotes- in “The Nerd” at Dramatic License. Photo: John Lamb

Mike Wells is just a hoot as Rick. His whiney voice, mismatched socks, standard tape on the glasses and perfectly unacceptable demeanor would make Emily Post turn over in her grave. Over the course of the week that he manages to disrupt every thing and everyone in the household, it becomes clear that, by any means possible, this houseguest from hell must be dealt with. It’s all a lot of fun to watch, but you wouldn’t want to be in their shoes (or, as in one scene, out of their shoes) while biting your lip and hoping against hope that this “Nerd” will just go away.

The wonderful Kyra Bishop set design is perfect, leaving plenty of room for the sometimes raucous behavior and Max Parrilla’s lights also add to the ambience of the setting. Lisa Hazelhorst has given everyone perfectly 80’s looks and decked out Rick in the high-water pants that expose those mismatched socks, the suspenders and all of the other additions that make him the unmistakeable center of attention.

“The Nerd” is a treat with a lively cast and a few surprises along the way. It runs through May 18th at the Dramatic License Productions theatre in Chesterfield Mall. Give them a call at 636-821-1746 for tickets or more information. While you’re on the line, you might want to inquire about some other special events Dramatic License has coming up including their second annual Trivia Night in June and their summer programs for kids and teens coming up in July.

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