You can’t have a decent farce without a love triangle, a mistaken identity or two, and some old-fashioned bad manners, and Larry Shue’s comedy “The Nerd,” which opens tonight at the Modern Theater Coeur d’Alene, has all of those things in spades.
“It’s typically classified as a farce, and it is a really big, funny, slapstick comedy,” said Hannah Paton, the show’s director. “But it also does have these really lovable characters and human moments that sneak in.”
Set in Terra Haute, Indiana, in the late 1970s, the story centers on Willum Cubbert (Brandon Montang), a middle-age architect and apartment building landlord who throws himself a birthday party that’s attended by someone he hadn’t anticipated ever seeing. The unexpected guest is also the nerd of the title: Rick Steadman (Sean Curran), the guy who reportedly saved Willum’s life during the Vietnam War.
They’d only previously corresponded through letters, but Rick decides he’s going to take Willum up on an offer for a place to stay. Willum is, of course, happy to help out, but Rick turns out to be a blundering, tactless imbecile, and he proceeds to make Willum’s previously nondescript existence a living hell.
Paton, who also works as the Modern’s managing director, says the show’s comedy is pitched at an absurd volume, so succeeding with “The Nerd” is an exercise in measuring the performances and timing just right.
“The thing that makes this show tick is the comic timing and the pacing,” she said. “It has to be very precise. A lot of people will tell you that comedy boils down to mathematics – the amount of time you pause, the rule of threes – and there’s definitely a specificity that’s needed. I was hugely aided in that by having a really talented cast who intrinsically understood a lot about it.”
This is the first full-length production Paton has directed, and she says that her cast – which includes Jessii Arp and Jett Bingman in supporting roles – has helped to pull the material together.
“In any show, but particularly in a comedy and something so high energy, the chemistry of the cast together onstage and what they’re bringing is so important,” she said. “I wanted to be able to rely on them bringing a lot to the table that we could play with and weed through and find the right elements from.”
And while the “The Nerd” is, above all else, intended to be funny, there are themes of identity and self-worth bubbling right beneath its goofy, cartoonish surface.
“Comedy is as useful a tool as drama for telling stories and for talking about issues,” she said. “It’s a story of this man who’s middle-aged, his life isn’t going the direction he wants and he’s being tossed along by fate. … He’s pushed to the edge and takes hold of his own life and transforms as a person, and I think that’s very inspiring. You would see that same storyline portrayed in a drama in a different way. It’s a very human story.”
Tickets and more info about The Nerd HERE!