It took a few years and plenty of persistence, but Attic Salt Theatre Company is finally presenting Larry Shue’s crazy comedy, The Nerd.
When Attic Salt founders Marci Bernstein and Jeff Catanese moved their company to Asheville from New York and officially relaunched in 2013, The Nerd was hot on their radar. Initially, “we tried to get the rights and were turned down,” Bernstein says. But the theater founders weren’t discouraged and tried again. Their efforts paid off: The Nerd will open Friday, April 7, for a run at N.C. Stage Company, which is hosting the comedy as part of its Catalyst Series.
Bernstein says that she and Catanese had both seen The Nerd — a story that swirls around a long-ago personal debt and an irritating house guest who won’t go home — in their high school days and had long wanted to bring it to the stage. “It just hits home in a positive way,” she says. She believes that those in the audience audience may see a little bit of themselves in the tale.
“I think the situations — someone owes a debt to someone else, and there’s a house guest who won’t go away — that happens every day,” Bernstein says. While set in the early ’80s, the story could happen in any time, she says, and a 2017 audience will still buy into the comedy. But ’80s technology may come as a surprise to some viewers, such as the use of a telephone answering machine in the days before voicemail and the internet.
The production “just tickles us,” says Bernstein. “There are many shows out there that will leave the audiences talking over drinks, but this is one of those shows that will make you laugh for two hours. You won’t think about politics or bills.”
The central character is architect and Vietnam War veteran Willum Cubbert. During his military days, Willum’s life was saved by Rick Steadman — though Willum was unconscious when he was saved, and the two men have never actually met. Nonetheless, Willum has promised to welcome Rick into his home at any time. Now, out of the blue, Rick leaves a phone message announcing his plans to visit, and he soon disrupts a dinner party with his inappropriate behavior. It appears that he will never leave the home. Also in the mix are Willum’s friends Tansy (who is planning to become a TV meteorologist) and Axel (a drama critic who once had a thing with Tansy).
Shue premiered The Nerd in 1981, and its 1987-88 Broadway run starred Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame and was directed by Charles Nelson Reilly. There have been countless productions at regional professional and amateur theaters. (Shue also penned a second successful piece, The Foreigner, but his life was cut short in a 1985 airplane crash.)
The Attic Salt cast features Patrick Brandt as Willum and Adam Arthur as Rick, aka the nerd, known for such oddball behavior as wearing a white shirt with plastic pen holder in the pocket and pants that are pulled up too high at the waist. Also in the show are Christy Montesdeoca, John Mendenhall, Frances Davis and Bill Parks, as well as two child actors, Eleanor Gorczynski and Anderson Bowman alternating as Thor, “the poster child for planned parenthood,” as the company writes in its press release.
This is Attic Salt’s third appearance in three years at N.C. Stage. The company moves around to local performance spaces, including 35below at Asheville Community Theatre and The Magnetic Theatre, where last year it did a series of productions for young audiences.
Fans of The Nerd will get a second shot at seeing the show when it is performed at Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville. That production begins Friday, April 28, so Bernstein doesn’t believe the two companies will compete at the box office. “I don’t think that we have a lot of audiences in common, and the distance [between Asheville and Waynesville] is great enough,” Bernstein says. “I hope that we have a successful production and that they do, too.”
WHAT: The Nerd by Attic Salt Theatre Company
WHERE: N.C. Stage Company, 15 Stage Lane, ncstage.org
WHEN: Friday, April 7, to Sunday, April 23, Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Opening night $6-$20/other performances $14-$28